Urban labs and the governance of urban sustainability transformation – the Transformative Urban Coalitions project

Photo: Team Photo in Mexico City


The first physical consortium meeting of the Transformative Urban Coalitions (TUC) project, funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI), took place in Mexico City at the end of September. Although the project has been running since 2021, an earlier meeting was not possible due to the pandemic. The Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University (UNU-EHS), the World Resources Institute (WRI), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and IDOS (Michael Roll, Christian von Haldenwang) are working together on the project. In five Latin American cities in Mexico (Naucalpan, León), Brazil (Recife, Teresina) and Argentina (Villa 20 – Buenos Aires), urban labs were set up together with local partner organisations, in which representatives of the city administration, civil society, academia, and the private sector meet regularly to initiate a transformation process towards urban decarbonisation and sustainable urban development. Through the urban labs, new governance models for this transformation are to be developed and established.

In Mexico City, representatives of the urban labs from all five cities came together to discuss their progress and challenges with each other and with the project team. They exchanged experiences and advice on how to, for example, convince skeptical local politicians of the usefulness of the urban lab model or on how to create the conditions for fair and constructive discussions between very different groups of actors.

Photo: Board on the Conference


A special feature of the project is the strong research component, for which IDOS is responsible together with UNU-EHS, building on previous IDOS studies. In addition to political economy analyses on the transformation potentials of cities and thematic literature reviews, surveys, interviews and ethnographic observations are being conducted on a regular basis to accompany and analyse the transformation processes and the emergence of new governance models in the cities. In a possible second project phase starting in 2023, recommendations as well as training programmes for further cities and actors will be developed based on these findings.

Another feature of the project is the film and communication component, which TUC also presented at the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 in November. As part of the project, Oscar-winning filmmaker Dirk Wilutsky documents the major challenges that the five cities are already facing due to the climate crisis as well as the transformation processes in several short films. The first film “A True Paradise: Overcoming Paralysis” was presented at COP and is now also available on the project website. Moreover, the 18 best photos of a worldwide TUC photo contest on the question “What do desirable and sustainable cities look like?” were presented at COP in Sharm El Sheikh. Photographers had submitted photos of urban life in 32 countries on five continents. Inspired by the short film and the photos, the visitors had lively discussions with the TUC team about the project and about ideas for the necessary sustainability and justice transformations of cities worldwide.

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