LSE Cities has published a new discussion paper titled ‘Climate Emergency and Cities: An urban-led mobilisation?’ by LSE Cities’ executive director and associate professorial research fellow, Philipp Rode, which unpacks the Climate Decade’s priorities for urban climate action, policy and research.
In the past 12 months, we have seen an acceleration in climate policy debates, consciousness and activism that had long seemed unimaginable. Some might argue that this new momentum is “beyond politics” – that is open for debate. What is undisputable is that over the past year, particularly since the release of the 2018 IPCC report, the global climate policy community has been confronted with a powerful new narrative, put forth by an increasingly vocal and effective global “climate emergency” movement. A new generation alarmed by the climate impacts already before us has found its voice, eclipsing long-used arguments for sustainable development and future generations.
This discussion paper unpacks the climate emergency movement from the perspective of cities, examining what has changed over the last year, what the climate emergency framing adds to the well-established climate action narrative, and how cities and local governments fit into the climate emergency agenda. It concludes with priorities for policy-oriented research on climate and cities.
The Emotional Life of the Cities seminars are expert led discussions hosted by LSE Cities and open to all both within and beyond the LSE Community. They are held in the LSE Cities seminar room 8.01H from 12.00-13.30 with lunch provided.
This seminar series thinks in critical as much as creative terms about the place of extreme emotional life in the city. Gesturing toward a tradition of urban observation that extends back to the likes of Flora Tristan and Walter Benjamin and reaches forward to writers such as Rebecca Solnit and Teju Cole, seminars will provide lively, incisive commentary willing to experiment, formally as well as methodologically. If you would like to attend any of the seminars please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The speakers and dates for the Lent Term Seminars are as follows:
Philipp Rode, Executive Director of LSE Cities, will be a featured speaker at the NEXT Design Perspectives conference in Milan on 29 October.
The conference, held at the Gucci Hub, is an exploration of the future of creativity and design. Rode will take part in a discussion on the theme ‘Mobility: the road ahead’, which will address the rise of new mobilities amidst the urgent need to tackle climate change. He also touched on the topic in Corriere, Italy’s most-read newspaper, ahead of the conference.
Along with NEXT Design Perspectives curator and director of the Design Museum of London, Deyan Sudjic, Rode also took part in a conversation on White City Place’s Thought Starters podcast. The episode, titled ‘How we’ll be getting around’, is a discussion between Rode and Sudjic on mobility at the intersection of rapid urbanisation and climate change.
Nuno F. da Cruz, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at LSE Cities, gave a lecture titled “The Governance of Strategic Planning and Infrastructure” to Addis Ababa University students at the Emerging City Lab in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Wednesday, 16 October 2019.
The lecture explored the bearing that governance has on strategic spatial development and the rollout of key infrastructure projects. It included findings from two Addis Ababa case studies gathered through the LSE Cities Governing Infrastructure Interfaces project, which focuses on transport and sanitation infrastructure in Ethiopia’s two largest cities to investigate the relationship between development goals and the contribution made by new infrastructure.
LSE Cities Policy Fellow Catarina Heeckt will be one of the participants at theC40 World Mayors Summit taking place from 9-12 October in Copenhagen.
This year’s landmark event, operating under the theme ‘The Future We Want‘, will highlight bold climate solutions in Copenhagen and abroad. More than 70 mayors will convene for the event, as well as business leaders, scientists, investors, and youth activists. Keynote speakers include former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Heeckt will be moderating a session entitled “How do we solve city climate challenges through collaborative innovation?”as part of the Cities & Business Forum on Thursday, 10 October. The forum will explore how leading cities and businesses are taking responsibility in the climate crisis by stepping up their ambition, accelerating action by shifting markets towards the most effective solutions, and exploring new and innovative ways of partnering to create the future we want. The event, co-organised by the C40 City Solutions Platform & Access Cities, will explore different models for the innovative city – business collaboration and how city climate action can be accelerated through effective partnership models. During the session, officials from Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and the City of Singapore will reflect on their experiences collaborating with businesses to solve pressing sustainability challenges, followed by a panel discussion with representatives from the private sector.
The C40 Mayors Summit will also hold several events showcasing how cities worldwide are building a sustainable, healthier, resilient and more inclusive future through city leadership, affordable housing, tackling air pollution, sustainable food systems, and other solutions.
C40 Cities, a network of 94 of the world’s leading cities representing more than 700 million citizens and a quarter of the global economy, brings together mayors and other city leaders who are committed to ambitious climate action. The C40 Mayors Summit takes place every three years.
The Addis Ababa Urban Age Task Force has been launched to support the Ethiopian capital advance its strategic urban development agenda. Addis Ababa, a city of about 3.4 million people set to grow by another million in the next decade, is planning to manage a period of intense urban change sustainably. The Addis Ababa Urban Age Task Force will serve as a support system for the Addis Ababa City Government through advisory activities and capacity building. It will also identify strategic pilot projects to address complex urban challenges around the themes of housing and urban densification, accessibility and streets, and green and blue infrastructure.
The Task Force, made up of 22 core and ex-officio members, is a partnership between theAddis Ababa City Plan and Development Commission (AACPDC), LSE Cities at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
Reflections on the city following the Urban Age Conference in Ethiopia
By Biruk Terrefe, PhD Candidate, University of Oxford
Nowhere is the concept of ‘path-dependence’ – the idea that a set of outstanding decisions are constrained by decisions made in the past – more tangible than in the urban bricolage that has emerged in Addis Ababa over the last fifty years. Addis Ababa’s façade blends across time and space, ranging from the century-old Imperial palaces and Italian modern architecture of the 1930s, to Soviet-influenced office buildings as well as the Chinese-backed Light-Rail transit system and skyscrapers.
The Urban Age Conference in 2018 hosted at the Hilton Hotel in
Addis Ababa provided a platform not only to engage with international academics
and current and former mayors from across the world, but also offered the space
for much-needed internal reflection among Ethiopia’s urban thinkers.
Ethiopia has had the highest expenditure rate on infrastructure in Africa, investing heavily in road networks, railways, dams, and housing.[i] While this has contributed to the rapid economic growth of the country in the last decade, it has also led to the demise of central tenets of urban planning. New roads and a city-wide rail system have been planned, built and constructed on the basis of engineering principles, where questions of social integration and connectivity with existing systems were of secondary importance. It is important to remember that roads are built for cars, streets, on the other hand, are built to maintain the vibrant interactions between vendors, pedestrians, shop owners, and vehicles. Unfortunately, Addis Ababa has lost sight of this vital distinction.
Central to the dynamic of rapid urban growth is the political question of multi-layered governance. Cities like London and Paris have extremely powerful city administrations that can singlehandedly enact large swaths of policies that shape the urban fabric. In Ethiopia, there is a fundamental question about the independence, authority, and capacity of city governments to shape urban life. Historically, the federal government has dominated the urban agenda, often sidelining local administrations in the decision-making process or imposing projects on the city, such as the Light-Rail Transit System (LRT). The LRT’s disconnection to existing transport modes and its impact on vehicular traffic are not incidental consequences, but a result of failed coordination in the planning process.
The latest mega-infrastructure project announced in late 2018 by the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seems to have also largely blind-sighted the officials of the city government. The new Dubai-sponsored, 36-hectare real estate complex La Gare in the geographic center of Addis Ababa raises numerous questions about how this project fits into the existing structure plan of the city. The developer Eagle Hills has been criticized for its failed endeavors in Belgrade. Prof. Edgar Pieterse in his keynote at the Urban Age argued insightfully that “pro-urban policy approaches that foreground the resolution of land markets are simply creating smooth landing pads for the wrong kind of capital”. In his view, it should not just be about “markets and trade, it’s about spatial justice”.
Addis Ababa is a city that is in desperate need of affordable housing and, as an urban-late comer, it can learn from the mistakes of others. However, as Prof. Fasil Giorghis based at EiABC said, “we are still attracted to these flashy images”. Protecting and shaping the growth of the Addis Ababa in the next decade, he added, is not just “about saving a few old buildings,” but rather “about maintaining the vibrant, multi-layered street life that exists”.
The conference session titled Ethiopia’s urban transformation highlighted many of the challenges that Ethiopian cities will face in the coming decades. While only 22% of Ethiopia’s population currently lives in cities, 70% of the country’s total economic output happens in these urban centres. In search of these jobs, young people in rural areas tired of “waithood” are heading to Addis Ababa as well as flocking to Adama, Bahir Dar, Dire Dawa, Hawassa and Mekelle. These secondary cities are rapidly increasing in size, partly due to an explicit strategy by the Ethiopian government to ease the growing pressures on Addis Ababa.
Addis Ababa is also home to a number of different administrations, in addition to the city administration, Addis Ababa hosts a continental, national and regional administration: the African Union; the federal government of Ethiopia; and the Oromia regional government. This creates a vibrant political environment at different scales within the city but also causes tension. Due to the complex political dynamics between the city government and the Oromia regional government, there are very defined planning boundaries within which the city must stay and beyond which the city has little influence.[ii]
Local political dynamics like this are often not understood by international actors. Maheder Gebremedhin, lead architect at YEMA Architecture at the Urban Age Conference rightly asked: “Who sets the urban agenda in Ethiopia?” The city faces an onslaught of foreign policy advisors, international NGOs, researchers and self-proclaimed experts that are engaged financially and technically across the city. NACTO, Bloomberg, ITDP, GIZ, and UN-Habitat among others are working with different actors at the city administration on issues ranging from non-motorized transport, road safety, and road design standards to the introduction of bike lanes. This creates a cocktail of well-intentioned policy reports, workshops, capacity-building exercises and the like that in fact are sometimes competing, often distracting and very seldom coordinated. While learning from the experience of other cities is both encouraged and essential, Addis Ababa needs to set its own urban policy by being strategic and deliberate in its engagement with external partners.
architects and urban planners have long acknowledged that the city’s growth is
no longer controlled. Rahel Shawl, founder of RAAS
admitted during the conference that “when the growth is so fast, you’re not in
control of the urban fabric and the way you build.” Ethiopia is at a critical
juncture not just in terms of its political reform process, but also the future
of its cities. As the density and compactness of Addis Ababa increases and as
housing and transport shortages become ever more apparent, we need to regain
control of this rapid expansion. There needs to be a move away from building
houses to developing housing, from making roads to creating streets, from construction
in sectoral silos to connecting with the plethora of urban actors. The new
flower needs a new vase.
[i] Sennoga, E., Zerihun, A., Wakiaga, J., & Kibret, H.
(2016). Ethiopia 2016 – African Economic Outlook. Retrieved from
[ii] Lavers, Tom. 2018. Responding to land-based conflict in Ethiopia: The land rights of ethnic minorities under federalism. African Affairs 117(468): 462-484.
Philipp Rode, Executive Director of LSE Cities, will be speaking at the very first Urban Land Conference on 26 September in Ulm, Germany.
While much has been said about traditional European urban cores, the peripheral suburbs and small to medium-sized cities that are home to millions of people remain underexplored. TheTransforming Cities conference, organised by the Institute for Architecture and Urbanism at the Biberach University of Applied Sciences, will bring together policymakers, urban planners, business leaders, academics and community groups to investigate various ways to shape the future of the urban periphery’s dynamic, yet fragmented, landscape.
Rode will join Suzanne Potjer (Project Lead at Urban Futures Studio, Utrecht) for the CONNECTED + BALANCED session, focussing on systematic experimentation and drivers for real innovation. Other sessions will include discussions on new governance, sustainability, and challenging inherited conceptions of the urban.
Just ahead of the UN Climate Action
Summit, a new report titled Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity was
launched by the Coalition for Urban Transitions. This report, a
collaborative effort of more than 50 organisations that includes LSE Cities,
outlines the immense social and economic benefits of creating compact,
connected and clean cities with net-zero emissions, and presents a clear
six-part action plan for national governments around the world.
The report clearly illustrates the imperative for national governments to support the development of clean, connected, and compact cities to drive economic prosperity and address the global climate emergency. The report shows that cutting 90% of emissions in cities is possible using proven technologies and would generate returns worth almost US$24 trillion by 2050 based on direct cost savings alone. But that city governments cannot drive a zero-carbon transition without the cooperation and support of national governments. Inclusive, zero-carbon cities must therefore be at the heart of countries’ long-term economic & social development planning. The main message of the report is that thriving cities make prosperous countries, and national governments must embrace this transition or risk being left behind.
LSE Cities has been a member of the
Coalition for Urban Transitions since its inception, co-leading the workstream
on national policy frameworks together with the OECD.
Learn more about our research and the work of the Coalition in the new report.
On Monday 23 September, Philipp Rode will give a presentation on the future of sustainable urban infrastructure at Live Electric: Designing a Low Carbon Future the 2019 IIEA/ESB conference held in Dublin. The conference showcases how consumer engagement with emerging technologies will lead to a large-scale, cross-sectoral transformation.