In the latest webinar by the Commonwealth Sustainable Cities Initiative, Professor Paul Jowitt, President of the Commonwealth Engineers Council, hosted a session on Infrastructure-Led Community Resilience, alongside UNESCO. Watch the webinar again below.
Professor Paul Jowitt, President of the Commonwealth Engineers Council and Past President of ICE, introduced the session by highlighting some of the factors that limit the spread of basic and necessary infrastructure, such as a lack of built environment professionals in many Commonwealth countries.
Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals
Speaking on the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with regards to the urban poor, he stated “We know our big cities are poorly provided for in terms of basic services. They represent a real systems-level problem, and deserve the attention of engineers and allied professionals, and other complementary professions, to deliver systems-level solutions.”
Co-chair Peggy Oti-Boateng, Director of Science Policy and Capacity Building at UNESCO, stated that in our current context, sustainable and innovative solutions require an efficient, transparent and vibrant scientific and engineering community. She noted how the theme of this webinar resonates with UNESCO’s mandate: Building peace in the minds of men and women through Education the Sciences Culture and Communication and Education.
Oti-Boateng also stressed that we must think beyond our comfort zones but ensure that no one is left behind.
Watch the webinar again below
The need for systems level thinking
The key message throughout the webinar was the urgent need for systems level thinking when building resilient and healthy communities through social and physical infrastructure.
The first panellist, Dr Priti Parikh from University College London, explained how the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted gaps in basic infrastructure provision in cities. She insisted that we now must address some of the existing injustices and inequities in modern cities that have been brought to the forefront, such as water and sanitation in informal settlements.
Another panellist, Professor Murali Chandrashekaran, Vice Provost International at UBC, emphasised the importance of SDG17: Partnerships for the goals. The work that Chandrashekaran has been doing at the Sauder School of Business brings together colleges, cities, corporates and communities together to focus on youth leadership and engage with the complex challenges facing a range of different communities.
Thandeka Mlaza-Lloyd, Development Planning Unit of Johannesburg, adopted a local government lens to the system-led approach. She showed how the city of Johannesburg uses a Spatial Development Framework (SDF) to understand the priority areas as well as favourable areas for growth and public and private investment. The method is also useful for partnering with stakeholders outside of a local government context, in order to build sustainable communities.
Resilience and infrastructure decision making
Resilience Shift is an international organisation with a key focus of bringing resilience to the forefront of infrastructure decision making, through sharing knowledge and best practice. Panellist Juliet Mian is Deputy Executive Director of this global initiative, and based her presentation around insights from her organisation’s work. Mian highlighted a Resilience Shift supported project ‘Resilient Leadership: learning from the crisis’, which will help us understand how experiences of Covid can shape future direction of crisis response. Here, the importance of leadership has emerged as a key theme.
The final pre-recorded presentation was from Dr Josh Macabuag, a Disaster Risk Engineer and Independent Consultant. His key messages; disasters disrupt sustainability; engineers protect structures and build capacity (top down and bottom up); and quantified risk informs decisions to build and protect the infrastructure (physical and social) that matters most.
In the Q&A session, it was asked how the Commonwealth can take an operational lead and engage with suggestions of a more multi-disciplinary and cross-sector approach to community-led infrastructure.
Professor Murali Chandrashekaran noted how; “It is interesting when we embrace the view of leadership that starts with executive mandate - we empower somebody to solve these problems. But the problems are owned by communities, and the service and leadership must to begin from there”. Parikh built on these thoughts by acknowledging the importance of training the future generations on how to implement solutions by actively learning and engaging. Here, a paradigm shift is required in the built environment curriculum, and the Commonwealth can foster this change.
Professor Paul Jowitt concluded the webinar, saying that the Commonwealth had a vital role in convening force for international collaboration and that; “Now is the time for an infrastructure led response to the UN SDGs” - a call to action.