Events like Uraia are an opportunity for cities across the globe to share their efforts and experiences in improving the lives of their residents.
I love when I can learn from a diverse set of people who are tackling real societal challenges in meaningful and impactful ways. The U.N. Uraia City Solutions event provided just that setting. From Medellin to Nigeria to Brussels to right here in Chicago, the event brought great work that has transformed or has the potential to transform people’s lives.
Uraia, meaning ‘citizenship’ in Swahili, was designed to create a network that spans a range of public agencies - big and small, emerging and developed - and tackle a range of challenges from mobility/transportation, public health, infrastructure, and emergency preparedness. Attendees come from near and far to learn and contribute.
Taking small steps and demonstrating tangible benefits before moving on to larger efforts seemed to be a theme that was shared by those who would act as champions for change within their agencies, especially when top down leadership was absent.
Diana Lopez Caramazana, of UN Habitat and Jean François Habeau of FMDV have long been promoting financial investment in cities by holding events that result in recommendations in the forms of reports, case studies and webinars to promote sharing between cities. While their work focuses primarily on the financial side, such as public private partnerships, they see an opportunity to do more.
“We are setting up urban labs as a way to test both business models and technology and to share what works across different cities and countries,” said Jean Francois.
In Brussels, a city-wide effort is taking place to reduce carbon emissions by utilizing data from the public transportation agencies to develop better multi-modal options for residents. By combining public transit, car and bike sharing options, pollution is reduced, and commuters get where they’re going more efficiently.
“Technology is not the hardest part” shared Rob Roemers, Manager at BI Solutions, Brussels. “Creating trust between partners, sharing data, there are the challenges. The Uraia event is good for gaining inspiration from other countries to think big – but equally important is sharing and learning from our failures.”
A collaborative experience
The fact that discussions were translated in 3 languages (English, Spanish, and French) did not inhibit an open dialog about the challenges to designing and implementing programs within government agencies, especially those programs focused on innovation and require some risk taking.
As delegates, we were able to tour one of three showcase projects in Chicago set up by City Tech Collaborative. I opted to board the bus and visit Elevate Chicago’s transit-oriented redevelopment initiative. As it happens, the transit station we toured is a stop on my daily work commute. (The irony that I went to a UN event to discover a game-changing project only ten minutes away is not lost on me.)
In the area we visited (one of five where the project is developing), the average life expectancy is 70, compared to an average of 82 just 5 miles away. This simple statistic exemplifies how close-knit inequity in the city can be.
Elevate Chicago’s effort exemplifies a community-driven approach to tackling inequities in very real ways. Nurturing community gardens and setting the stage for a farmers market, fostering and supporting small business and redeveloping the industrial business corridor, re-thinking approaches to housing, and creative job training and internships are just a few of the highlights from the tour.
Uraia and City Tech’s thoughtful approach to designing these opportunities to share and learn proved to be a meaningful way to drive progress. At HERE, it's our objective to use technology collaboratively to affect change for the better. After all, progress starts locally – even ten minutes away.