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Global Collaboration Studying Untold Narratives About Sustainable and Equitable Urban Change

A new international research partnership aims to spark dialogue and learning through storytelling about sustainable and equitable urban development. Collaborators from five global cities have partnered to shift common practices of how stories of successful urban change are told and who tells them.

The study involves three case study cities that are exemplars of sustainable and equitable development. Local collaborators include academics and their community-based partners in Belfast (Queen’s University), Northern Ireland, Belo Horizonte (Federal University of Minas Gerais Brazil and Observatory for Urban Health), Brazil, and Bogotá (Universidad de los Andes), Colombia.

Skyline view of homes and industrial uses in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Two yellow shipbuilding gantry cranes are visible on the left behind a large warehouse and grey city buses. On the right, multiple church spires and red brick homes are shown, with garden trees in the foreground.
Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo: Geraint Ellis

Partners at the University of Washington and the Institute for Inclusive Economies and Sustainable Livelihoods at the University of Toronto, Scarborough (Canada) will focus on comparative research and creating policy-relevant findings.

The principal investigator is Dr. Helen Pineo, Research Associate Professor in the University of Washington Department of Urban Design and Planning.

“City planners and politicians routinely look for policy examples from other places to solve local challenges. Simplified narratives of success become popular models for change, such as cycling infrastructure in Copenhagen or Bus Rapid Transit in Bogotá. But these stories are often over-simplified, and may not represent the full picture of what happened, who was affected, and how success can be replicated elsewhere.

Women exercising on a rooftop with a colorful surface as part of the Blocks of Care project in Bogotá, Colombia. Cable cars are visible in the background.
Blocks of Care project in Bogotá, Colombia Photo: Olga Lucia Sarmiento

With local partners, we will uncover and share the narratives and cultures that underpinned successful urban change. We hope that the stories told through this project will open up new possibilities, dialogues, and perspectives for the problems facing cities in the U.S. and globally.” said Dr. Pineo.

In this multi-country project, the partners are adopting research practices that support equity, such as providing funding for case study cities to create value for local stakeholders.

View of Belo Horizonte, Brazil showing buildings and a cloudy sky. In the foreground there are concrete and block homes with aluminum roofs. In the background, there are rows of newer beige and salmon-colored apartment blocks (approximately 4-7 floors tall). A greenspace is visible on the left.
Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Photo: Elis Borde

Find out more about the project, its partners, and case study cities at the website.

Support for this project was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.