By Tia Schwab
IPS 275: “U.N. Habitat III: Bridging Cities and Nations to Tackle Urban Development” is housed in the international policy studies program and offers students the opportunity to explore sustainable urban development strategies. The class studies Habitat III, a week-long United Nations conference on housing and sustainable urbanization that took place in Quito, Ecuador in October.
The Habitat summit occurs once every 20 years, with the first being held in 1976. The conference brings together stakeholders around the world to draft a series of global standards and pledges for sustainable development called “The New Urban Agenda.” This document includes 17 goals which address challenges such as poverty, health, peace, education, equality, economic growth and environmental sustainability.
Kevin Hsu, urban studies lecturer and co-founder of the Human Cities Initiative, and Caroline Nowacki, international policy studies lecturer and Ph.D. candidate in civil and environmental engineering, chose to launch the course this fall to capitalize on the timing of the Habitat III conference.
“[Habitat III] is a current event; it’s happening right now,” Hsu said. “Even though it’s not easy for the students to just leave campus for a week and go to the conference, what they can still do is take part in the same discussions and debates that are happening in cities all around the world, empowering them to interpret, to analyze and even be stakeholders of the future.”
Students interact with the conference on many levels, such as watching live-streamed events, hearing from guest speakers who collaborated on the conference and pursuing independent research on a topic of interest.
Hsu and Nowacki also shared their experiences attending Habitat III with students. The pair led an event at the conference called “Global Lessons To Local Action: Using Design Thinking to Craft Better Urban Toolkits,” which acted as a collaborative workshop on how organizations can create “actionable tools” for tackling day-to-day urban challenges in their communities.
In addition to the focus on Habitat III, the course is structured around two main themes: world society and stakeholder theory. Together, they explore the interests of different actors in the community to promote sustainable urban development in an increasingly globalized society.
In a recent class, students gave short presentations on themes of the conference they had followed through live broadcasts. Many students stressed the importance of converting the broader goals of “The New Urban Agenda” into concrete action.
“Definitely at the moment, ‘The New Urban Agenda’ [comprises of] very aspirational, long-term goals,” said student Gemma Smith, a first-year master’s student in international policy studies. “[But] how you do translate that into a national or lower local context?”
According to Smith, the independent research projects in the class provide the framework to practice implementing goals. For her project, Smith plans to examine mental health issues among the homeless population in San Francisco.
“[In undergrad], you do research, but a lot of the time you are relying on secondary sources,” Smith said. “Learning how to be a researcher in your own right is quite exciting,”
On Dec. 7, the students will present their final projects at the fall Human Cities Expo at the d.school.
Contact Tia Schwab at kbschwab ‘at’ stanford.edu.