Nairobi, 24 June 2020 - A webinar held on the topic of urban research and education gathered over 70 participants in a lively debate with urban researchers and educators as part of the COVID-19 Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) Series session.
This was the fourth UTC in the second series and was organised by the World Urban Campaign and the Habitat Partner University Initiative (Habitat UNI) a network between UN-Habitat and institutions of higher education and research globally.
Opening the session, Filiep Decorte, the Head of the Programme Development Branch at UN-Habitat asked researchers and educators to reflect on the structural capacity gaps that have been revealed by the COVID-19 crisis.
“Cities are at the heart of the COVID-19 impacts and solutions and there is a need to accelerate education and training of future professionals in order to address the build environment. A new push is required to revisit research and educational needs to better plan, design, build and manage cities,” he said.
The importance of preparing the new generation for an increasingly complex world through education and research was highlighted by Professor Sahar Attia, Chair of the Habitat UNI Steering Committee.
Moderator Astrid Haas, Policy Director at the International Growth Centre in Kampala, Uganda, focused on the current challenges that universities were facing with the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Panelists agreed that with on-line learning, universities had to adapt and innovate in their teaching methods to continue engaging students in a meaningful manner.
“Future curricula need more reflection in order to incorporate new dimensions linked to the impacts of the pandemic and strengthen particular areas of learning and those should be aligned to the SDGs,” said Subrata Chattopadhyay, Professor and Dean at the Indian Institute of Technology of Kharagpur. He said research should help revisiting housing and urban planning standards, livelihood planning, community interaction and social space.
The increasing complexity emerging in cities, not only as the results of the health impacts of the pandemic but also the crisis of inequalities, illustrated by the recent protests, was highlighted by Dawn Jourdan, Professor and Executive Associate Dean at the College of Architecture of the Texas A&M University. She said this should be reflected in curricula and teaching and the current crisis was a real opportunity to revisit programmes and the pedagogy itself.
Camilla Perrone, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning University of Florence, stressed the need to rethink environments, places and methods of interaction and research within universities, and called for this momentum to be used to vigorously address the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda.
“We need to increase our digital competence and infrastructures to promote online sharing, promote open data and science and multiply sharing platforms to boost capacity. This will require huge investments in research,” she said.
Finally, Nabeel El Hady, Professor of Architecture and Urban Development, Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University, reaffirmed the need to refocus curricula on essential issues that have emerged during the COVID-19 crisis around air quality, water systems and the value of nature to cities.
“These issues need to be at the heart of research that should lead to direct operational advice to governments. Climate change and the collapse of biodiversity are the central issues to be addressed,” he noted
Further Urban Thinkers Campuses on COVID-19 are being held online in July. For more information and to register go to https://www.worldurbancampaign.org/urban-thinkers-campus