Planning and Managing Sustainable Cities: From Research to Practice
Organized in cooperation with the Global Research Network on Human Settlements (HS-Net); University of Toronto Urban International (UTUI); the European Commission Directorate-General for Research (EC DG-Research); the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP): Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Project; the International Development Research Centre (IDRC); Center for Demographic, Urban and Environmental Studies (CEDUA), El Colegio de Mexico.
The round-table discussions were chaired by Ms. Paola Jirón, Housing Institute, Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of Chile, Santiago de Chile and moderated by Professor Patrick Wakely, Emeritus Professor of Urban Development, Development Planning Unit, University College, London. Dr. Winnie Vivianne Mitullah, Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, served as rapporteur.
The purpose of the round table was to bring researchers and policymakers together to discuss and propose ways of translating research on planning and managing sustainable cities into action. As stated by several participants, researchers in developing countries generally believed that the key reason for ineffective outcomes following decades of urban planning could be attributed to the neglect of their research findings. On the other hand, governments were of the view that such research findings hardly met their needs.
In order to make urban-related research more relevant to local authorities, the seven presentations made during the round table and subsequent discussions underscored several observations which revolved mainly around the constraints or challenges facing researchers, and how to rectify them.
One of the key constraints was the failure on the part of researchers to undertake policy‑relevant applied research. That failure was attributable to the fact that universities and research institutes (where most researchers were based) tended to emphasize theoretical research, which was often seen as more prestigious than applied research. While recognizing the importance of theoretical or pure research as a means of advancing the frontiers of knowledge, the round table recommended that applied research with the potential to solve immediate problems should be given priority. In that regard, it was proposed that local governments should encourage and fund research that had an impact on key problems. In support of that view, the example of Vienna was given: the City of Vienna promoted, funded and used research by local universities on sustainable housing and construction, resource management and waste disposal.
Another barrier to translating research into action was the fact that researchers were often disconnected from the community or stakeholders that ought to benefit from the results of research. In addition, research agendas were frequently driven by funding organizations. One way of resolving that problem was to build targeted partnerships and permanent dialogues with potential users of research results. Researchers also needed to develop close critical ties with local authorities. Closely related to the development of such ties was the building of trust between researchers and clients, and also with the various stakeholders. Various examples, including from the City of Nanjing, China were used to illustrate that point.
The need to present research findings in a user-friendly manner was also emphasized. Good‑quality research often remained unused by city governments because of the esoteric nature of research outcomes, which were often not easily understood. In addition, it was stressed that research findings must be made available to policymakers in a timely manner.
In order to transform research into action, the round table urged international organizations to facilitate easier access to the results of research by supporting the creation of knowledge centres and other platforms capable of serving as reliable sources of research-based solutions to problems of sustainable urban development.