The Urban Future Global Conference

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2019-06-14 Zarrin Fatima, Espoo's Youth Delegate

2600 attendees. 400 cities. 300 speakers.

Norway’s capital witnessed a plethora of visitors and the city bustled with people as they arrived from locations from around the world to attend the much awaited Urban Future Global Conference 2019. The attendees, who had painstakingly flown miles to reach Oslo, were CityChangers. And that is what this story is about.

The Urban Future Global Conference is Europe’s largest event for sustainable cities. Massive changes are happening around us. Many would not think of such changes as they commute to work every day, as they do their daily groceries, pick up the children from school and return home after a long day.

Whether you are the mayor of a city, a CEO of a company, or a social entrepreneur, you have the responsibility to set the example. But why be a CityChanger? What is the point? Because climate change has no borders. Because the responsibility to clean up the waters and cities does not lie with one municipality or government. Because one city cannot be blamed, and neither can one city take the responsibility to make all difference. Because health and wellbeing is essential for everyone. And because you can start the change, if no one else wants to.

I believe in doing. I believe in finding solutions and setting the right example.

Sustainable cities need doers. Sustainable cities need darers. Sustainable cities need those who believe ‘I am not everyone. I am me and I can bring about the change’.

I applied to the Young Leaders Program with a vision to represent my city, the City of Espoo. Finland is already active in many areas of society and Espoo also has visionary plans to work with the residents and be a responsible city. By participating in the conference sessions and the separate Young Leaders Program, I got the chance to witness, interact, and absorb ideas from all over the world. The conference sessions mainly focused on city administrations and how they are operating in various areas. Hundreds of cities around the globe are engaged in aspiring activities. From creating parks and letting the children be the at forefront of change such as the City of Tirana, to reviving old abandoned areas in Rotterdam and Oslo through co-creation and placemaking, to creating green areas suitable for all ages as being done by 8 80 cities across the world, to encouraging climate awareness to residents in social housing in Austria. Cities are involved in both small-scale and large-scale activities.

The Young Leaders Program had participants from Argentina, Australia, Norway, Columbia, Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore, UK, India and Finland (to include myself) so that the group had about 20 participants altogether. This program was more specific and focused on stories of Young Leaders taking an initiative on their own, discussing common urban issues such as water and materials recycling together as a group, understanding and building leadership skills, and recognizing who you are as a person before starting to lead and manage anything in life. The Young Leaders Program included several influential leaders who already are an active part of their society including Fabian Dattner the founder of Homeward Bound, a global initiative to support 1000 women in STEMM into leadership and decision-making, Miriam Staley the CEO and founder of We Make Waves, a company centred on the impact that well-crafted and superbly delivered messages can have, and Gil Penalosa founder and Chair of 8 80 Cities that revolves around one question: What if everything we did in our cities had to be great for an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old? Surely, we would end up with fantastic cities for all!

The biggest inspirations at the conference was brought by those who started from scratch. People who started from absolutely nothing and carved their way to the top not in one go, but only after failures and many falls.

I believe Espoo is already at the forefront of setting good examples for everyone around the globe. With co-creation and citizen participation already happening since the last 20 years, citizens are considered an important of the planning process.

Questions to consider:

Is there a particular age group that is left out and should be included?

Is the retired older generation taking part in the planning process? How can it be improved?

What e-services work the best? Do we need more applications, such as SeeClickFix?

Building renovation and implementing energy measures remain a central topic nonetheless. Renewables must be deployed at a larger scale and distributed energy systems could be further supported and encouraged to move towards a low carbon society, as envisioned by Espoo. The city already has a climate action plan illustrating the emphasis on using bikes and public transportation, but the aspect of energy savings still needs much attention and vigorous action.

Questions to consider:

How are the renovation technologies being developed?

How can we promote the use of heat pumps and solar power more?

How can we adopt the ways of net-zero and nearly zero energy buildings as being done in Norway?

Last not but the least, how can we make Espoo the next European Green Capital? Together we must think how to get sustainable neighbourhoods, car-free streets and eco-friendly gourmet restaurants.

How can solar water heating and heat recovery be deployed to achieve energy efficiency in commercial locations?

How can existing structures be reused in clever ways, as the way it is done in the waterfront area of Tjuvholmen having artificial reefs to make sure the local underwater wildlife remained safe? Or at Sørenga, yet another new neighbourhood in Oslo, which used to be a heavily trafficked bridge and now has been turned into a park area in the same vein as New York's Highline – an old structure put to new use in a hypermodern district.

Could Espoo consider having more car free zones and closing down traffic areas?  

Could Espoo have car free days?

These are some of the next steps that Espoo could take to further efforts towards climate change while aiming to be the next European Green Capital and setting yet another extraordinary for the world.

Zarrin Fatima at the Oslo City Hall