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Language in the City: How can our cities 'speak' a more inclusive language?

By Kara de los Reyes

Earlier this month we were delighted to host our second event as part of the Urban Thinkers Campus, with UNHabitat's World Urban Campaign on 'Language in the City'. Following an inspiring launch in March, we continued our journey to understand and re-imagine cities through the lens of language with over 80 participants from different continents to explore how our cities can 'speak' a more inclusive language in a roundtable discussion.

With an incredible line-up of speakers from Mumbai, Bogota and London we challenged the boundaries of verbal language with part of the event being delivered in Spanish and live interpretation, to talk through and exchange thoughts about inclusive language. An exhilarating discussion was introduced across the three presentations, touching on the different scales and components of engaging with communities to make design processes more inclusive. From doorstep conversations with e-waste dismantlers in Delhi, turning the street into a place for discussion, observation and building trust, through to developing 'care neighbourhoods' in Bogota to encourage support, space and time for caregiving women in the community. Our final speaker complimented and grounded the conversation by telling us about toolkits and guidelines that can begin to define a vocabulary for these methods, making them more accessible and wider reaching in the sector of design.

Mixing up the classic Roundtable format, we split up into breakout groups straight after hearing from our wonderful speakers, taking the opportunity to reflect on the presentations in groups and share experiences from the diverse audience joining us.

Returning to the main Roundtable space, we were able to draw on the expertise and knowledge not just of our speakers but also from participants. Weaving questions and answers amidst a thought-provoking discussion, we explored the space between face-to-face engagement and the opportunity of rewriting a dictionary of words used in design policy and processes. The conversation touched on the need to offer people, communities and professionals the tools and resources to define their lived experiences, priorities and feelings. Even if verbal communication isn't a preferred language, we explored the idea of a wider, new vocabulary for emerging ideas so that people can pick and choose how they engage with a topic and be able to explain it to others.

We ended the event unpacking the response to a question about physical barriers in cities, their size, zoning and physically excluded areas. This question lended itself to examples already being used in Bogota: how do we develop tools and processes that mean good engagement can be replicated at different scales, with different communities and still be meaningful in a variety of contexts?

Taking care of the most vulnerable (children, elderly residents and those who are less able) also means taking care of everyone, and this means looking at complimentary approaches, not relying on just one tool, or just one semantic approach. A key aim is to bring people to a level where they can feel comfortable and engage meaningfully in a conversation about change in their cities.

We want to thank everyone again who joined us at the Roundtable event, especially our wonderful speakers, and we are excited to continue exploring the topics of Language in the City in the upcoming events on this campus.

You can see the recordings of our speakers on ACD's YouTube channel.

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