Raising Awareness “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z” – Urban Thinker Campus

First #UrbanThinkers campus for Asia Pacific was held in Canberra, Australia, on the 8th March 2017. More than 100 stakeholders engaged in discussing actions and solutions to transform our cities into healthy and playful environments for all.

Check out our short video from the event “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z” and watch this space for more information in the near future including the outcome report.

The organiser team from University of Canberra, Health Research Institute, and Urban Synergies Group would like to thank all those people that expressed interest and participated in the forum.

We would like to highlight the meaningful contribution of the ACT Government, being the key sponsor of the International Forum, as well as the Minister Fitzharris and Dr. Paul Kelly, Chief Health Officer. Our keynote presenter from Yale University Dr. Tong Liu shared insights into the social and emotional development of children. Prof. Tom Cochrane highlighted the pressing evidence relating to the state of health and physical inactivity of children in the ACT. The issues presentation included contributions on children and the built environment by Gregor H. Mews, Designs around the state of Children’s health by A/Prof. Lisa Scharoun, as well as on the importance of play presented by Dr. Tong Liu and A/Prof. Paul Tranter.

Our gratitude goes to our Master of Ceremony, Dr. Anthony Burton and all table coordinators that helped to capture the essence of the event and the In-kind support partners, including the ACT Government, ACT Council of Parents & Citizens Association, Australian Primary Principle Association, ACT Children and Young People Commissioner Jodie- Griffith- Cook, the ACT Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment with Dr. Kate Auty and Edwina Robinson, the Cross Culture Design Lab, Heart Foundation ACT with Annie Kentwell, Living Streets, Planning Institute of Australia ACT, SEE- Change and University of Canberra, Prof. Rachel Davey.

Watch this space for the outcome report and speakers presentations !

Upcoming events

Reflections on the New Urban Agenda and what it means for Australia

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Urban Synergies Group (USG) hosted the Urban Thinkers workshop ‘Urban Talks: Emerging issues from Grassroots to International’ in order to contextualise the outcomes of the Habitat III agenda and the New Urban Agenda from an Australian perspective. The event took place on the 29th of November 2016, in Canberra, Australia, with academicians, researchers and practitioners in attendance. This article summarises the collective findings of the event.
During the opening contribution Gregor H Mews, founder of Urban Synergies Group, provided valuable insights and reflected on key messages from the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador. In particular, the paragraphs relating to the ‘Right to the City’ concept, Health and Well-being, Public Spaces and Sustainable Mobility were centre of the attention.
Mews stressed that cities today cover around two per cent of the total landmass, but are responsible for 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP’s). At the same time, they are responsible for 80 percent of the global energy consumption, producing 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and generating 75 percent of total global waste (UNEP, 2015, Cities and buildings report). Fast urbanisation is also having an effect on lifestyle that directly affects health. As a result, health challenges such as physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, overweight and obesity are increasing in emerging middle-income societies.
We are living in a world of uncertainty and accelerated change. If we want to win the race against climate change and promote a sustainable urban development we all need to work together. The New Urban Agenda emphasis that a successful implementation of its vision and commitments depends on the involvement of formerly atypical agents: community organisations, marginalised groups and independent actors, such as private sector and academia. In accordance with Dr. Joan Clos, executive director of UN Habitat, the message delivered was clear: ‘We shall leave no one behind’.
The average Australian lifestyle overshoots earth’s carrying capacity. There is a growing need to rethink and readdress the way we plan, finance, develop, govern and manage cities in Australia. This is a call for action where leadership at all levels is required pushing for the adoption and implementation of a truly sustainable, people centred, aged and gender responsive and integrated approach.
In order to reflect on the visions and implementation of The New Urban Agenda participants were invited to engage in a debate around the following three questions:
  • How can we implement the New Urban Agenda?
  • What are your top three action items?
  • How can we at USG work with you to enable better health and wellbeing outcomes?

Findings

The participants discussed in groups and presented their ideas for adopting The New Urban Agenda principles and for achieving effective implementation of actions. The findings of the final discussions were:
  • Regulatory government bodies should push large developments to be thinking about public realm upgrades and corresponding long-term cultural programs, to provide ways to enable social connection and so stimulate a sense of community. Bring back the ritual of having parties in the community, places where people can celebrate and meet. The participants stressed that an improved public realm is very important for sustainable communities.
  • Reinvestigate different sustainable urban forms in order to provide a greater housing choice and to allow affordability with the interface dynamics of the region in mind.
  • Improve strategic planning and investment in productivity in peri-urban areas under the assumption that some people do want to live in those areas.
  • Another area for collective action was identified in relation to productive use of space in the city: the role of autonomous vehicles and future transport corridors function.
  • Cities need to be committed to deliver better overall sustainability outcomes. There must be an open debate and actions around optimal instead of maximum productivity.
  • Questions such as ‘How many resources are different population groups willing to consume and give up?’ ‘How do we want to live in this new urban world?’ and ‘What are the choices we need to make in order to ensure health and wellbeing for all?’ must be resolved.
  • Research and existing findings on people’s lifestyle choices in relation to sustainability must be effectively translated and communicated ensuring that people can make better informed choices. Grassroots groups, civil societies, social entrepreneurships and governments need to collaborate more effectively.

Urban Synergies Group was acknowledged as a key partner that provides a platform for these discussions and exploration of collaboration. This article was also published by our partner the World Urban Campaign late 2016 and can be accessed by clicking here.

Article by Urban Synergies Group
Photo Credits (CC): Aline Santos (CC)

Urban Talks: Implementing the New Urban Agenda through accelerated actions on active travel in Australia

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The Urban Synergies Group team is looking forward to see you there. The event will also be recorded and can be viewed later in the editorial section on this website.

Please RSVP until the 20th March, by sending an email to info@urbansynergiesgroup.org

Interview with Gregor Mews on “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z”

“Play is the way children
make sense of the world
in which they live!”
Maxim Gorky

This is an interview with Gregor H. Mews, Founding Director of Urban Synergies Group, on insights around the need for a Forum on healthy child development and their environments in Australia.

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1. Why are you organising a forum, and what do you anticipate to achieve with it?

We at Urban Synergies Group, together with our partner the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra, found sufficient evidence that indicates the health conditions of children in Australia are concerning.

The international forum “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z“ is part of our collaborative commitment to shed light on an important societal issue, that cannot continue to be ignored. Our message is clear and simple- we need to do better. If we want to ensure that future generations can enjoy equal opportunities, prosper and develop to their full potential, we need to explore new approaches to decision making around such ‘societal’ challenges. Collective actions need collective discussions and a fair, informed process for key decision making.

With this forum, we want to create a platform where we can come together with all relevant stakeholders and passionate members of the community, including concerned parents to do something about this societal challenge.

We will attempt to answer two questions. Firstly, how can we provide more daily opportunity for children to develop the social and emotional skills, psychological resilience and physical attributes to enable them to succeed in life as independent individuals? Secondly, how best do we align our collective resources to reconfigure our environments and the opportunities available to children within them in a fair, effective, efficient and cost-effective manner?

2. Why do you focus on child play, and what kind of relation does it have to obesity?

From our own data gathered since 2000, 69% of primary school children in the ACT are of low general fitness and 1 in 4 are classified as over a healthy weight. Children’s gross motor skills are another area of serious concern. We observed children that are unable to walk properly backwards, because they never had the opportunity to explore and engage in risky experiences on their terms. In our society the perception of risk has shifted. The ACT Government is aware of this and is committed to address this issue. Many Non-government organisations are doing their very best to reverse this health crisis.

Play offers a very potent narrative for children to engage in a meaningful way with the natural world around them, if we allow them to have enough space and time. Indeed, evidence suggests who children that engage regularly in outdoor play have higher levels of physical activity. Children are not even aware that they are getting healthier, because it is simply fun. Playful experiences offer mental health benefits and improve their capacity to be creative as well as learn important social skills. We are thrilled to have our colleagues from Yale University join us on the day, sharing their latest research findings.

However, despite of all the evidence, the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child clearly states in article 31, that children have a right to play. In theory, this alone should be enough reason for adults to make sure their children have enough time and space for playful experiences in our cities. The health data helps to strengthen the case for play.

3. Is there a big cost associated with transitioning environments to allow for adequate physical exercise, what is this compared to the greater cost of childhood obesity?

True, there is a high cost associated with childhood obesity, which puts pressure onto the healthcare budgets, not just in Australia but worldwide. Combining these costs with physical inactivity as an independent risk factor is even more compelling. Infrastructure interventions in the built environment cost money and can have a lasting impact over their lifespan. This can be more or less helpful to achieve better health outcomes. Spent in an effective way, a piece of health supporting infrastructure, for example a safe and inclusive bike lane or footpath connecting attractive destinations, can become an effective measure in preventing diseases. However, the questions we should be asking ourselves are; how much do you value your own life? Can you put a price tag on it? Perhaps you want to be loved, spend as much time as possible with people you care about, grow up in comfortable home and have access to clean and safe environments. All of these contribute to your overall health and well-being. So I’d like to ask you why do you choose to spend these days so little time among your loved ones, feel like you need to spend more money on a bigger house, and pollute the environment contributing to an ecological footprint that is now five times higher than this earth’s carrying capacity? The price tag is our children’s overall well-being and we all are starting to pay for it. They are becoming fatter as well as sicker and sadder. Playful spaces near you can be part of the solution. Share your thoughts with us, be part of the debate and help us shape spaces for future generations on Wednesday 8th March.

Interviewed by: Kimberley Le Lieve, FairFax Media.
Background information on Gregor H Mews

Useful information about Shaping Spaces for Gen Z

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Shaping Spaces for Gen Z Forum Program

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Background information on Gregor H Mews