IPS 275: ‘UN Habitat III: Bridging Cities and Nations to Tackle Urban Development’ by Deland Chan

Written by Tia Schwab for the Stanford Daily

IPS 275: “U.N. Habitat III: Bridging Cities and Nations to Tackle Urban Development” is housed in the international policy studies program and offers students the opportunity to explore sustainable urban development strategies. The class studies Habitat III, a week-long United Nations conference on housing and sustainable urbanization that took place in Quito, Ecuador in October.

The Habitat summit occurs once every 20 years, with the first being held in 1976. The conference brings together stakeholders around the world to draft a series of global standards and pledges for sustainable development called “The New Urban Agenda.” This document includes 17 goals which address challenges such as poverty, health, peace, education, equality, economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Kevin Hsu, urban studies lecturer and co-founder of the Human Cities Initiative, and Caroline Nowacki, international policy studies lecturer and Ph.D. candidate in civil and environmental engineering, chose to launch the course this fall to capitalize on the timing of the Habitat III conference.

“[Habitat III] is a current event; it’s happening right now,” Hsu said. “Even though it’s not easy for the students to just leave campus for a week and go to the conference, what they can still do is take part in the same discussions and debates that are happening in cities all around the world, empowering them to interpret, to analyze and even be stakeholders of the future.”

Students interact with the conference on many levels, such as watching live-streamed events, hearing from guest speakers who collaborated on the conference and pursuing independent research on a topic of interest.

Hsu and Nowacki also shared their experiences attending Habitat III with students. The pair led an event at the conference called “Global Lessons To Local Action: Using Design Thinking to Craft Better Urban Toolkits,” which acted as a collaborative workshop on how organizations can create “actionable tools” for tackling day-to-day urban challenges in their communities.

In addition to the focus on Habitat III, the course is structured around two main themes: world society and stakeholder theory. Together, they explore the interests of different actors in the community to promote sustainable urban development in an increasingly globalized society.

In a recent class, students gave short presentations on themes of the conference they had followed through live broadcasts. Many students stressed the importance of converting the broader goals of “The New Urban Agenda” into concrete action.

“Definitely at the moment, ‘The New Urban Agenda’ [comprises of] very aspirational, long-term goals,” said student Gemma Smith, a first-year master’s student in international policy studies. “[But] how you do translate that into a national or lower local context?”

According to Smith, the independent research projects in the class provide the framework to practice implementing goals. For his project, Smith plans to examine mental health issues among the homeless population in San Francisco.

“[In undergrad], you do research, but a lot of the time you are relying on secondary sources,” Smith said. “Learning how to be a researcher in your own right is quite exciting,”

On Dec. 7, the students will present their final projects at the fall Human Cities Expo at the d.school.

 Source: Stanford Daily

Stanford Human Cities Initiative revolutionizes urban planning by Deland Chan

Written by Rose Cerulli (Stanford Daily)

This fall, the Stanford Human Cities Initiative will feature projects ranging from local Bay Area neighborhoods to the global UN Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador at its Human Cities Expo. The Human Cities Initiative is a program housed in the urban studies department, offering an innovative new approach to urban planning and giving students the tools they need to solve the pressing global problems of the modern world.

Now in its fourth year, the initiative is a revolutionary project envisioned by Stanford faculty in order to address issues in a world where the majority of the population lives in urban areas. Students consider questions of policy, technology, sustainability and culture, considering every aspect of urban life as they design future-focused models. The initiative emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration and experiential learning.

Taking learning beyond the classroom and into the real world, the initiative has a special studio in Beijing. There, Stanford students have the unique opportunity to work alongside peers from Tsinghua University. Together, they conduct field research in city planning. This hands-on experience gives students invaluable insight into urban issues, as they are able to apply policy directly to real-world problems.

Urban studies lecturer and the initiative’s co-founder Deland Chan ’07 M.A. ’07 said that the program was crafted around a “human-centered approach” to city-planning. To this end, students consider policy and design proposals that will help cities become places where people can not only work and live, but also thrive and connect.

Chan explained that one of the goals of the initiative is to “put people back at the core of the conversation.”

The Human Cities Initiative is fundamentally interdisciplinary. Just as modern cities are made up of a mix of cultures and perspectives, the Human Cities Initiative brings together a wide range of Stanford students and scholars. The initiative is open to undergraduate and graduate students of all majors. History faculty join forces with engineering faculty, design majors work with art students, and the civil and environmental engineering department works with Stanford Arts. The Stanford team has also connected with off-campus corporations across the San Francisco Bay Area.

“This is as much about the process of decision-making in designing our cities as it is about technological solutions,” Chan said.

Coursework also emphasizes interdisciplinary learning. Instead of working within a narrow sphere of technical issues, students take classes that explore the intersection of multiple fields. While a single approach might leave out important aspects of life in an urban center, this interdisciplinary focus allows for the inclusion of many perspectives and a multi-dimensional analysis. Coursework explores four pillars of sustainability: environmental quality, economic vitality, social equity and cultural continuity.

“We learned the importance of respecting local context while working with multinational teams and projects,” said Sneha Ayyagari ’17, a student in the class majoring in environmental systems engineering.

The initiative is revolutionary in that redefines what it means to be a city-planner. Chan states that the ideal designer of future fields will not simply be an expert in a single field, but rather “a new global citizen … able to navigate across disciplines, across cultures.”

Contact Rossella Cerulli at rcerulli ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Source: Stanford Daily