Forging Urban Solutions

USF hosted the UN-Habitat Partner University Initiative meeting that focused on solutions to problems caused by rapid urbanization.


Participants of the UN-Habitat Partner University Initiative, hosted by USF's Patel College of Global Sustainability, came from 23 countries. Home page photo: Keynote speaker Subhro Guhathakurta; Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy and Claudio Acioly, UN-Habitat representative. Photo: Aimee Blodgett | USF News


By Melissa Wolfe

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (May 20, 2013) – The 40 delegates from 23 countries gathered earlier this month at the University of South Florida’s Patel College of Global Sustainability to collaborate on enormous challenges facing developing countries in the wake of rapid urbanization.


The UN-Habitat Partner University Initiative, established in 2011, aims to bring together the world’s top urban research universities to tackle the daunting tasks of generating sustainable solutions to devastating issues crippling growing cities in the developing world, including access to basic human services like water and energy.


The vision of the initiative is to grow the next generation of urban leaders and researchers, and promote the global exchange of knowledge on sustainable urban centers. The initiative currently has 136 institutional members and more than 1,200 individual members.


UN-Habitat focuses on urban issues such as informal housing, urban planning, transport, and the provision of basic services like food, water, energy, and waste management.


“Urbanization is mainly taking place in the developing world,” said Kala Vairavamoorthy, dean of USF’s Patel College of Global Sustainability and chair of the UN-Habitat Partner University Initiative’s Steering Committee.


“The numbers of people in these urban spaces are increasing. Already many of these cities are struggling,” he said. “As we get more and more urbanization taking place, these cities are going to be under more pressure and will find it even more difficult to meet some of the basic human needs.”


In an effort to address the problems arising from rapid urbanization, the initiative is establishing global research hubs to serve as collaborations of academia joined together under a specific theme. The themed hubs provide opportunities to both institutional and individual partners to collaborate on a specific theme and share knowledge.


“We don’t have the capacity to conduct all the research we’d love to do and the universities don’t have the on-the-ground projects or presence in each of the countries that needs their research,” said Fernando Cabrera of the Capacity Development Unit in UN-Habitat. “The idea is to implement the universities research into our on-the-ground projects and promote real change.”


The HPUI Global Meeting, held at USF from May 10-12, served as a platform from which to collaborate, finalize, and launch key pieces of the program.


The meeting opened with Subhro Guhathakurta’s keynote address on increasing the need of smart urban design in the future.


Autar Kaw, a USF mechanical engineering professor and a 2012 U.S. Professor of the Year, also delivered a keynote address on the need to increase access to higher education across the globe and how the solution may lie with MOOC, or massive open online courses.


The delegates worked on finalizing the concept notes of five proposed hubs and discussing themes for future hubs. At the end of the meeting, five hubs were officially launched: Urban Futures, Urban Governance, Informal Urbanism, Food Security, and Climate Change.


The Urban Futures hub, coordinated by Vairavamoorthy and hosted by USF’s Patel College of Global Sustainability, joins universities from Norway, the United States, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania to work together to generate solutions for integrated urban resource management in developing countries, particularly in Africa, with an overall goal of creating livable, resilient and healthy cities.


Delegates also passed the Declaration of Tampa, formally declaring the initiative’s intent to play “a critical role in the development of the new urban agenda for the 21st century” and help shape the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals to be presented at the 2016 Habitat III conference that will set the urban development agenda for the next 20 years.


UN-Habitat further debuted an open forum website that allows individual members and institutions to globally share, access, and collaborate on current research. This website will be used as a tool to facilitate joint learning and foster collaboration between universities and individual members. The website is currently in user testing and is expected to be officially launched in the next couple of months.


“We need UN-Habitat as a catalyst for funding, especially coming from a developing country,” said delegate Mario Reyes, dean of the School of Urban and Regional Planning in the University of the Philippines. “We don’t have those funds for research and capacity development.”


In the next 12 months, UN-Habitat hopes to have concrete projects on the ground combining university knowledge with UN-Habitat experience to solve real-world problems.