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World Urban Campaign with UN-HABITAT: Series reimagined cities through the lens of language

By Kara de los Reyes and Nataly Raab

Cities play a fundamental role in enabling exchange and interaction, not only of goods and services but people and narratives. Between May and October last year, the ACD, alongside The Bio-leadership Project, AIA Communities by Design, and Community Design Agency, co-hosted a series of online events that reimagined cities through the lens of language. We created a space for emergent conversation and action and explored how the urban landscape creates opportunities to reform cities into spaces that promote verbal and non-verbal engagement. The year was punctuated by our partners’ in-person events in August. Our organisations align with SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities and we wanted this Campus to look into how we can make cities more inclusive, shared, and regenerative.

In its varying forms, language can express thoughts and ideas simultaneously, and cities are spaces where people naturally interact through work, leisure, travel and play. Our events unpicked and redefined ideas around inclusive, shared and regenerative cities, encouraging people to engage in their landscape of language and make sense of cities through a shared vocabulary that brings meaning and identity to places.

The Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) is an initiative of the World Urban Campaign driven by UN-Habitat. The UTC is conceived as an open space for critical exchange and is intended to build consensus between partners engaged in addressing urbanisation challenges and proposing solutions to urban futures.

Our UTC Action Days spanned different countries, mainly the UK, the USA, and India.

In India, Community Design Agency was actively running the Govandi Arts Festival that spans communities between Bristol and Mumbai. This creates a dialogue through the arts - and practising active social, collaborative, and community engagement to celebrate marginal urban spaces and the lives that weave them together.

In the USA, the AIA Communities by Design shared feedback on events held in Petaluma, California, and Savannah, Georgia communities. The communities examined the language used to understand the historical context of Place. This shift in language and perception allows grief and trauma to be recognised - particularly the often buried and unrecognised effects of colonisation, slavery, genocide, and, more recently, ecocide. These weave into the narratives that help to make sense of new interventions that support social equality and actions in climate resilience.

In the UK, The Bio-Leadership Project ran a workshop at the Shambala Festival, where participants were guided to imagine themselves as Other Beings with whom we share our living, urban spaces. The exercise did not allow pets to be included but included elements like water, air, trees, and other animals. The impact of this was that it invited a different, extended perspective and considerations towards non-humans when we design, use, and travel through our urban spaces... or any human-based intervention needs to be reconsidered to encompass a wider systematic, generational, non-human approach.

Our partner, the Landscape Institute, assisted us with coordinating and technological the events.

We are proud to have been part of a collective under this UN-led initiative that helped to open discourse and action around co-creating the cities of the future.

We came away to continue conversations and develop a more open and inclusive language around urban development. To engage more actively with marginal voices, global-south perspectives, and rewritten histories and to engage more actively with decision makers and existing structures to raise awareness and rethink design processes.

We had diverse engagement thanks to our speakers, who were generous with their time. We would particularly want to extend gratitude towards: Rosanna Vitello and Marcus Willcocks of Urban Lexicons of Urban Lexicons & The Place Bureau, Taryn Sabia Director of the Florida Center for Community Design and Research (FCCDR) at the University of South Florida’s School of Architecture and Community Design, Diana Parra, Subsecretaria del Cuidado y Políticas de Igualdad en la Secretaría Distrital de la Mujer de Bogotá (Secretariat of Equality and Diversity, District Secretariat of Women, Bogota, Colombia), Natasha Sharma & Bhawna Jaimini, Community Design Agency, Mumbai, India, Amy Wilson, Founder Acorn Acorn Design & Gunter Wehmeyer, Leadership Coach and Design Researcher, Manchester School of Art.

Link to full ACD report submitted to World Urban Campaign Here


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