Building Sustainable Legacies

Changing paradigms for creating sustainable and just cities

At Rio Centro, many thousands of delegates, media and major groups  (women, labour, youth, business, labour, etc.) representatives are  meeting to discuss the challenges we face. What a nice change from the 5-star experience at the Windsor Barra, the temporary home to 2,700 business executives. Finally we had some relevant and engaged discussion about important and urgent topics – food for the brain and soul!

A session sponsored by the Ford Foundation on building and creating  just cities pointed out an important new paradigm: we need to look at  the arrival of poor emigrants in a city as an opportunity rather than  as a problem, like in the 60s and 70s. Addressing the issue of  mobility linking housing with work place is also critical.

Naturally, there are fears about the political instability that results from many new low-income emigrants. Yet, there is a proven,  direct connection between general income inequality and political instability. Investments by foundations are, as such, risk money. We need to take risks to ensure we limit and reduce inequality, activities and investments that support this.

The latest thinking highlights the importance of non-government associative housing projects. Another related paradigm shift is the  need to understand that the different interests for different city spaces need to be transformed from competing interest to combined interests. The effect of moving favelas (slums) into different areas has long proven to be a disastrous strategy. In Rio, an unknown amount of economic activity and value-added activity of low-income areas was wiped out when the neighbourhoods were relocated to create space for  competing interests, such as commercial buildings. So-called informal settlements are very vulnerable to being relocated, often not only temporarily but (as an example given again from Rio) for a period of  50 years – a sad series of undisputed discriminatory deeds!

A great take-away quote from Luis Ubinas, President of the Ford Foundation: “Let’s not call investing in low-carbon public transportation solutions a courageous act, it would rather be courageous or stupid  not to do so… much like playing Russian roulette with our future!”

In conclusion, a related side comment from one of the panelists (the official list is hopelessly outdated, listing NYC Mayor Bloomberg who is nowhere nearby) who reminds us that rural poverty is even worse than urban poverty as it also concerns social exclusion and is mostly  hidden and invisible to the public eye. What a most relevant and engaged session – I feel as being part of a group of people who cares with a sense of urgency. What a relief!

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Author: Katrin Muff PhD

Dr. Katrin Muff is a thought leader in the transformative space of sustainability and responsibility. From 2008 to 2018, she led the Thought Leadership activities in the area of conceptual design at Business School Lausanne, where she acted as Dean from 2008-2015 until self-organization made such a title redundant. Under her leadership, the school focused its vision on entrepreneurship, responsibility and sustainability in education and research. Her business experience includes 10 years at ALCOA (GM in Russia, Industry Analyst for Global M&A in the U.S. and Business Analyst Europe), 3 years as Director, Strategic Planning EMEA at IAMS Europe (Procter&Gamble), and 3 years as a co-founder of Yupango, a coaching consultancy dedicated to start-ups and training management teams.

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