From Asia to Africa to Latin America to almost anywhere else in the world, cities are and have been the setting for intense struggles and conflicts and consequently/simultaneously the platform for some of the most triumphant of victories. Think Sparta in its glory days in Greece or Babylon before the Tower of Babel came crashing down on their pride, greed, and ambition. However, some of these victories are won in much quieter settings. Often, without accolades or much fanfare.
Fast track to this century, with the rapidly changing urban landscape, globalization, and other external factors that affect it, city victories are no longer fought with arms but with innovation, resourcefulness, and sheer wit. Victors are no longer clad in chain mail armor and swords, but with intelligence, quick wits, and (sometimes) charisma. We now have the likes of Enrique Penalosa of Bogota who has profoundly stated that, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, it’s where the rich use public transportation.” One of his legacies has been the 300km of bike lane in the city, providing equal importance to the biker in a $30 bike with the citizen in a $30,000 car.
Enrique Penalosa and others like him, have faced the odds and have overcome them. The urban actor faces a “battle” with seemingly insurmountable obstacles in efforts to introduce positive change and effectively challenge (and change!) the status quo for the better, “urban soldiers” forge on amidst looming and eminent climate change impacts, competing priorities for limited resources, and in fast developing economies, rapidly increasing populations, whose needs must be anticipated and addressed. It was critical then and it remains important now, as cities remain to be the main drivers of development of a nation.
Since 2010, the IHS Alumni International, together with the IHS, has been recognizing outstanding city changers from the world over for their outstanding and innovative work they have been able to achieve in making positive changes in the cities where they are in. From Latin America to Africa, we have honored three outstanding individuals, whom, faced with great odds and challenges, have overcome these to improve the lives of urban dwellers in their respective cities. This year IHS is also introducing the Youth Alumni International Award for individuals between the ages of 18 and 35, or youth organizations which have made a significant contribution to the urban development and management.
Dr. Sergio Fajardo, former Mayor of Medellin in Colombia, harnessed various urban tools to break down prevailing social inequities. He worked to provide a sustainable transport system that increased the urban poor’s access to services, extended micro-financing projects for small businesses, and made public spaces such as libraries and parks social and political vehicles to alleviate/improve impoverished areas in the city.
In Nigeria, two exceptional governors have been recognized for their remarkable work – His Excellency Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso and Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, Governors of Kano State and Lagos State, respectively. Both have focused on transforming their respective states into a level that it can become economically competitive and socially inclusive.
Do you know of a Dr. Fajardo, a Mr. Babatunde Fashola, or a Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso in your respective localities? Are there other women and men or remarkable organizations making significant, positive changes in their urban spaces you think should be recognized? Do you know any young individuals or organizations which have made a positive impact on urban development? Do you think their strategies need to be shared so these can be adopted and replicated in or by other cities? Tell us about them! They might just be the next Outstanding City Changer!
Tanya is currently the project coordinator at Clean Air Asia and the Communications Officer of the IHS AI board. She has been involved with different NGOs working with urban poor groups, coordinating initiatives, and influencing national policies and housing programs at the city level. She worked as Urban Development Consultant for the World Bank and was involved with and/or led several donor-funded projects.