Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities and by 2030 it is projected that 6 out of 10 people will be urban dwellers. Despite numerous planning challenges, well-managed cities can be incubators for innovation and ingenuity and key drivers of sustainable development.
In response to SDG 11 and the European Union strategy “Europe 2020” in which sustainable development, responsible investment and green property solutions are the focal points, Warsaw School of Economics in Poland put in place the Eco-Innovations in Cities project between 2013 and 2015 and a resulting specialization based on the project which is still in effect today. I spoke with Prof. Anna Szelagowska from the university about this project.
Why is SDG 11 so important?
Today, we are living in extraordinarily dynamic times of permanent change, fast-paced globalisation and unprecedented pace in urbanisation. New paradigm shifts move with breath-taking speed past eco-city, blue city, white city, clean city, intelligent city, sustainable city, revitalised city, smart city and innovative city train stations. But there are also smog-cities, congested cities, polluted cities, littered cities, abandoned cities, deprived cities, bankrupt cities, heavily indebted cities and ghost cities. Cities and contemporary urbanisation trends differ in particular parts of the world. But the fact remains that every city faces great challenges and such challenges may be formulated into problems which require answers to the following questions:
- How can we improve the quality of life and wellbeing of city inhabitants (young and old, single households and large families, healthy and sick, poor and rich), visitors and tourists?
- How can the status of an eco-city be achieved?
- How should we plan and manage a creative city?
- How can we discover the city’s potential?
- What can be done to efficiently regenerate deprived areas of any city?
- What can be done to enhance competitiveness of a city in the region?
- How can the best conditions for green businesses be secured in a city?
- In what ways should innovative solutions be implemented for the benefit of the present and future generations?
- What strategy for smart and sustainable development is to be selected?
- How should the above undertakings be financed with the limited resources of a city?
At Warsaw School of Economics we try to find answers to the above questions in our specialization “Eco-innovations in cities”. In October 2017 this specialization will be renamed “Financial and green innovation in cities”.
Introduce the Eco-innovations in cities specialization
The main aim of the project was to strengthen the educational potential of the university in the field of eco cities. One of the results of the project was the Eco-innovations in cities specialization. This specialization includes a blended learning course with a range of up to date case studies about green/sustainable urban projects focused not only on buildings, but also on transportation, society and other issues concerning temporary cities. The course includes lectures on eco-cities, green urban regeneration projects, green project funding, planning and management in eco-cities, new models of urban entrepreneurship and making the 21st Century cities. Half of curriculum of each course is carried out on-line (15 hours) and the other half (also 15 hours) is held in the form of 3 interactive workshops. All MA students that take part in the programme also need to complete a one-month apprenticeship in companies and organisations active in the field of eco-innovations in Poland. Approximately 10% of the best students received internships in related academic research units across the EU. It is the first such educational programme for M.A. students, not only in Europe but also worldwide. 20 academic staff and doctoral students were also involved in the project.
What kinds of partners does the programme work with?
Since 2013 the project has been implemented with support from academics from around the world including Spain, the UK, Austria, Sweden the Netherlands and the USA. Six teams, each including a professor, doctor and Ph.D. student paid 3-month visits to selected universities in Europe and the USA, to exchange knowledge and experiences with our partners in the Project, to prepare e-books and case studies for the courses as well as to continue the academic cooperation.
Apart from the academic cooperation, the strengths of this project and specialisation are companies and institutions in which our students had obligatory internships including a range of businesses (local and international) as well as national and local ministries and municipalities doing projects on eco-cities.
What have been some of the successes?
The project finished successfully with 118 students completing their studies in this field. A range of workshops and case studies were developed with professionals. A group of 40 students also took part in a study visit in Scandinavia (Lund, Malmo, Copenhagen) in which they met with representatives of green companies, eco start-ups and saw the most popular Swedish and Danish examples of eco-innovations.
Six e-books which are included in the academic content taught to students of “Eco-innovations in the urban regeneration projects” program have been published within the framework of the project. These e-books can be downloaded free of charge.
In addition, an International Conference on Eco-innovations in cities was organised in December 2015. Students of our specialization were actively engaged in this conference and presented their best case studies related to the sustainable development in cities.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
The dissemination of knowledge about city eco-innovations as well as the SDGs related to cities appears to be the most effective, where lasting interactions take place among research entities (such as Warsaw School of Economics, businesses, municipal authorities and inhabitants themselves). The best way to encourage students to study in this field is the international cooperation between universities (the double diplomas) and to offer paid internships in green companies or eco-organizations. The study visits to eco-cities are also essential for success.
What’s next for the initiative?
We are exploring a range of possible options for this project including new undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses (including interdisciplinary Ph.D. courses), distance learning courses. We will be further developing cooperation between universities and companies in this field and engaging employers in the implementation of teaching programmes. Additional career support will be added for students in this field. We are looking into organizing internships and training courses for our teachers and doctoral students in leading foreign and Polish academic and research centres to promote their knowledge in this field.
In my opinion, every graduate of our university should understand a city’s complexity and be prepared to cooperate with local authorities and residents. Only then can business and cities cooperate not only for bigger profits but for higher quality of life inside cities. Therefore our graduates should understand cities and know how to cooperate with their authorities and inhabitants. This is our way of thinking on a topic and it explains why we decided to prepare and implement the project at Warsaw School of Economics.
For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.