Debates on climate change and sustainability continue to focus on the new urban agenda. Habitat III, the third major United Nations conference on sustainable urban development, will be held in Quito, Ecuador on October 17-20. The summit will foster meetings, pledges, and commitments around a new global strategy of urbanization in the coming decades. Meanwhile, citizen-led initiatives around the world are gaining momentum. What role should cities play in promoting equity and welfare? How are cities key in the future of global development? How can citizens re-imagine public spaces?
The Low Carbon City Forum, the first global citizen-led forum on low carbon cities, seeks to answer some of these questions. Before Habitat III takes place, participants will meet in Medellín, Colombia on October 10-12, a city known for its urban transformation in the last decade.
Inspired by the new Sustainable Development Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the role of cities in the mitigation of carbon emissions, members of La Ciudad Verde created the Low Carbon City Project. Their goal? To mobilize citizens to collectively build more livable and sustainable cities. The project combines a multi-actor, multi-sectoral approach including transport, energy, industry, waste, and agriculture.
As part of the broader project, the Low Carbon City Forum will be a platform for participants to discuss the roadmap towards better cities. The organizers are hoping to bring together over 3000 citizens, government officials, academics, entrepreneurs, and urban leaders. Through a holistic approach, the forum seeks to foster collaboration between actors in both the private and public sector and has thus far, engaged a total of 60 ambassador cities. The organizers have also led more than 20 side-events prior to the forum, including workshops, webinars, hangouts, and public interventions.
La Ciudad Verde: A Citizen Collective
The forum is one of many initiatives organized by La Ciudad Verde, a citizen collective that started six years ago by a group of citizens interested in sustainability. Similar to Costa Rica Limpia, the organization began tracking local politicians during election season, asking them to sign the “Urban Sustainability Pact.” While they were first based in Medellín, the collective expanded to other major cities in Colombia including Bogotá, Cali, and Villavicencio.
La Ciudad Verde and the organizers of the Low Carbon City Forum are committed to empowering citizen voices in the sustainability debate. They have launched successful campaigns to promote bicycle use and pedestrian zones. They have strategically used social media as well as local and national news outlets to raise awareness about a different urban reality. They challenge the idea that citizens ought to normalize air pollution, cities designed for cars, and concrete-filled public spaces.
After Medellín reached historical contamination levels akin to those in Beijing, La Ciudad Verde led a creative campaign in public plazas covering famous statues by Fernando Botero. Photo: Low Carbon City Forum.
What makes La Ciudad Verde so successful? The collective does not present itself in opposition to local officials; it is able to shape public policy because it positions itself in a way that engages the government and informs policymaking. It then uses citizen mobilization to convince decision makers to implement policies that benefit society as a whole. Members of La Ciudad Verde also recognize the importance of translating why and how better air quality, walkable cities, and public transportation can significantly improve quality of life.
Citizen collectives understand that major international agreements like the Paris Agreement on climate change are not static documents solely owned by national governments. Rather, they exist as examples of what can be achieved when non-state actors–including citizens–come together. Ultimately, what empowers members of collectives like La Ciudad Verde is their shared sense of ownership over the public space and commitment to image something better.
Through campaigns like “King Pedestrian”, La Ciudad Verde has called for the prioritization of pedestrian spaces. Photo: La Ciudad Verde.