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For greener cities, mayors tap a sustainable resource: great ideas from young people

From Bogota to Barcelona, from Quito to Quezon City, young people are thinking hyperlocal to make inroads on global challenges.

Participants in C40’s Students Reinventing Cities competition are helping imagine new futures for cities, starting with geographical areas of focus—a neighborhood, a block, a single street—identified by their mayor. The competition, supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), invites students, in collaboration with local academics, to dream up alternate futures for these areas and envision tangible interventions that provide pathways to stronger communities and more climate-friendly modes of living.
Eighteen winning teams successfully pitched projects in 18 cities, in some cases those they call home. They’ll have the chance to present their projects to civic leaders and to serve as advisors on future developments in their geographic area of focus.

One winning team imagines re-landscaping the neighborhood of Kypseli in Athens, drawing on the largely invisible resource of the soil beneath residents’ feet, to create features like green rooftops that mitigate energy use for heating and cooling. Another proposes an underground system of pneumatic tubes to disentangle waste streams and divert material from landfills in Auckland. A project in Quito advocates for the planting of urban orchards and indigenous trees, while one in Delhi envisions affordable housing built around communal outdoor spaces.

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The participants are undergraduate and graduate students representing a wide range of disciplines, from architecture to sociology to art, with the idea that improving sustainability and quality of life in urban areas is an inherently interdisciplinary undertaking. The competition provides design principles around key concepts like “a place for everyone” and “circular resources” to guide students in their planning.

C40, which organizes the competition, is a network of almost 100 cities which together represent a quarter of the global economy. These cities and their mayors are committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants, as well as inequality, and to advocating for the goal of the Paris Climate Accords.

SNF believes deeply in the power of young people to transform our world for the better, in realms from social inclusion to applied scientific innovation. Public space and civic infrastructure will be key loci for addressing the social and environmental challenges we face, and SNF has supported efforts to reimagine inclusive public space for the post-pandemic era and to remake urban streets into human-centric places. Since the majority of humans live in cities, envisioning a brighter future for humanity requires envisioning positive potential futures for our cities.