Globally-Informed City Climate Pedagogy & Practice: a position paper.

Initiated by Verdini, G., Alkhani, R., Beech, N., Cascone, P., Lamb, T., Woltjer, J., University of Westminster. 


This position paper aims to generate a debate on how architects and urban planners should be educated to tackle effectively global challenges, climate change being one of the most urgent. By recognising the limits of current practice, it suggests a deep exploration into the process of knowledge production behind it.


The purpose is to formulate ideas for a new city climate pedagogy & practice. This will contribute to the UN-HABITAT Initiative ‘Planners for Climate Action’, which attempts to define future new and effective city climate actions. In doing this exercise it endeavours to bring to the table a set of considerations, which are increasingly interrelated. These are as follows:


  1. Urban and architectural knowledge, and therefore solutions for urban problems including climate adaptation strategies, has been predominantly produced in the Western world, and, more critically, used in the Global South where most of the urbanisation is today occurring (IPCC, 2014);
  1. Universities across the world have been challenged as institutions failing to recognise the limits of their knowledge production, and have been asked to incorporate a diverse contribution of people and approaches. This is part of the broad ambition to decolonize Universities (Bhambra, et al., 2018).

Taken together these two strands point to the need to develop a more context-based knowledge, as highlighted in post-colonial architecture and urbanism (Hosagrahar, 2012). At the same time, it suggests that Universities need to embrace an overall transformative education model, which implies reconsidering both the process of knowledge production, and the development of suitable skills, values and dispositions to deliver a more ambitious education for sustainable development (EDS) model, as promoted by UNESCO (2017).


Overall, decolonising education and practice is here interpreted as the move towards ‘alternative ways of thinking about the world and alternative forms of political praxis’ (Bhambra, et al., 2018, p. 2), centred on multiplicity beyond the hegemony of unilateral Western civilization (Dennis, 2018). In the following part some of the concepts in use in this paper will be defined more accurately, explaining why we refer to ‘globally-informed knowledge’ when we talk about ‘city climate actions’ and why we refer to terms such as ‘localising’ and ‘reimagining’ when we talk about decolonising urban education and practice. This will be used to outline a series of coherent research questions that will drive our research in this area in the near future.


Towards Globally-informed City Climate Actions


While cities are recognized as major contributors to climate change, urban planners and architects might promote and develop low-carbon and climate resilient urban settlements. In particular, urban form (density, land use, connectivity and accessibility), housing and infrastructures are drivers of energy and GHG emissions (IPCC, 2014) and this has informed a newly launched UN-HABITAT initiative called ‘Planners for Climate Action’ to promote better planning for cities facing the impacts of climate change (


Admittedly, the latest assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognises that existing literature on urban form and infrastructures as drivers of GHG emissions, and therefore mainstream spatial planning and climate change mitigations strategies, is ‘dominated by case studies of cities in developed countries’ (Seto, et al., 2014, p. 949). Solutions such as compact cities, TDO, and even ways of financing urban development and to enable successful private-public partnerships, are generally tailored around mature socio-economic systems, in particular North America (Seto, et al., 2014). A clear example in this respect is the set of solutions for sustainable neighbourhoods based on the ‘new urbanism’ movement. Although attempting to prevent urban sprawl, they have responded, at best, to middle-class North American and European neighbourhoods development issues, without offering plausible and really sustainable solutions to countries in Asia, Africa or in the Middle East (Sharifi, 2016).


Overall, current urban and architectural practices still retain connections with modernist assumptions and paradigms formulated during the Twentieth century, with a risk of perpetuating long-lasting urban problems and preventing sustainable solutions from being found on a global scale as highlighted in the so-called ‘Quito Papers’ (UN-HABITAT, 2018).  This book proposes  a critical reflection around the ‘New Urban Agenda’, the document that should pave the way for sustainable urbanisation for the next two decades (UN, 2017). Eminent scholars such as Richard Sennett, Saskia Sassen and Ricky Burdett and the former executive director of UN-HABITAT, Joan Clos, have highlighted the dominant modernist euro-centric ideology implicit in many new urban developments across the world, such as: the over-specification of forms and functions, the ideology of ‘tabula rasa’, and the 20th century bureaucrat’s horror for disorder, particularly in large megalopolis of the global South. This has only amplified existing social and environmental problems in cities, leading to advocate for changing the mind sets of architects and city planners, and a new critical imagination of cities based on open-system thinking (UN-HABITAT, 2018), transformative city changes (Fokdal, Verdini, and Bina, forthcoming) and even experimentations of ‘designing disorder’ (Sendra and Sennet, 2020).


A globally informed knowledge for city climate actions means to develop critical mass on climate-related diagnosis and solutions to urban problems in diverse cultural and geographical contexts, particularly from the Global South. While this debate has been more generally framed as ‘comparative urbanism’ (Robinson, 2016), being increasingly hosted in journals such International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, the focus on climate change is still loose and ill-defined.


Decolonising Urban and Architectural Education and Practice


Education for sustainable development (ESD) requires a profound transformation of ‘how we think and act’ towards developing knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to achieve a positive impact in the real world (UNESCO, 2017, p.7). This has been recognised crucial in face of addressing grand societal challenges such as climate change. Recent studies suggest that the concept of ESD, being rooted in the goal of wellbeing and common good, bears similarities to emerging approaches of curriculum decolonisation (Padayachee, Matimolane and Ganas, 2018). In the context of urban and architectural curricula, the fostering of a more critical pedagogy, implicit in decolonised approaches, has addressed concerns regarding both contents (new knowledge) and learning processes (ways of constructing new knowledge).


In respect to contents, this means advocating for:


  • An urban planning and design education which challenges western and urban-centric theories (Robinson, 2006), although possibly retaining some common features as suggested by Scott and Storper (2014), suggesting consideration of other forms of urbanity (for example rural-urban), diversity of places, indigenous knowledge and local cultures, indigenous modernities, and alternative human-nature relationship (Hosagrahar, 2005; Robinson, 2006; Edenson and Jayne, 2012), with increasing centrality given to global urbanism in comparative terms (Robinson and Roy, 2016);
  • An architecture education with a broader theoretical focus beyond the pure production of the built form, more interested in notions of culture, contexts, politics (Berlanda, 2017) and a practical environmental design focus on reusing local knowledge and materials for climate suitable solutions (Okoye, 2002).

In respect to learning processes, this means advocating for:


  • A genuine move towards inter- and trans-disciplinary teaching practices, challenging the system of power embedded in disciplinary boundaries and opening up to possibilities of meaningful interaction with practice, and in general with non-academic actors (Verdini et al., 2018).
  • A student-centred and interactive learning environment, centred around notions of inclusion and diversity, co-construction of knowledge, and critical thinking and skills development, attempting to tackle ethnic-based knowledge gaps (Icaza and Vásquez, 2018).

Within the discourse of decolonising universities, the two strands are here understood as a move towards ‘localizing’ and ‘reimagining’ curriculum, in order to achieve a more (and non exploitative) international, interdisciplinary and interactive learning environment (Last, 2018).




The broad research question suggested in this position paper is therefore:  how can we achieve effective city climate pedagogy & practice, by improving the system of knowledge production from a post-colonial perspective? This can be articulated as follows:


  1. Is there evidence of innovative context-based diagnosis and solutions to climate change problems in global south cities? Are they conducive to appropriate climate adaptation strategies? What can be considered as good practices? What can be learnt from failures? How can we incorporate such knowledge into programmes? How can we envision effective city climate actions?
  1. Is there evidence of innovative transformative and inclusive teaching and learning strategies that address specifically climate change and adaptations in cities? Are there any good practices? What can we learn from failures? How can we envision effective city climate pedagogy?


The response to these questions will come from engaged scholars, practitioners and policy makers, with experience in curriculum development and practice in the urban and architectural field and climate change, and an underlying interest in alternative ways to envision urban futures. The blog  ‘City Climate Pedagogy & Practice’ will offer an on-line platform to reflect on these issues.  




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