Roberto Rocco was a keynote speaker at the Universities Round Table organised by the UN-Habitat UNI initiative.


The World Urban Forum (WUF) offers an opportunity for institutions of higher learning to showcase examples of transformative educational and capacity building initiatives and technical assistance programmes implemented in partnership with city governments, NGOs and the private sector. Engaging institutions of higher learning provide a strong basis for transformative action towards sustainable urban development.As a fertile ground for the cultivation talent in an emerging generation of urban practitioners, universities can play a critical role in promoting the linkages between culture and innovation in cities. They equip graduates with critical and replicable skills to support sustainable urbanization.Universities are also home to intellectual innovation and knowledge generation and are at the forefront of harnessing new technologies, approaches, and methodologies that support sustainable urban development.Universities themselves have distinct cultural identities and infrastructure which have implications for the relationship between community identity in urban areas and universities. Some measures taken by universities to foster culture and innovation include the establishment of science and technology hubs and research parks, support for accelerators and incubators, the inclusion of mandatory courses on intercultural learning in their curricula, and the development of inter-disciplinary approaches to inclusive and sustainable cities.


This roundtable will highlight ongoing partnerships and initiatives which strengthen synergies between higher education (SDG4) and urban governance (SDG11). The overall objective is to multiply their positive impact at the city level by:Highlighting successful educational initiatives and projects developed by universities to promote innovation and culture in cities.Facilitate stock-taking by participants of practices from universities in partnership with global networks and local governments to implement the New Urban Agenda and Agenda 2030 in cities with specific attention to cultural heritage.Provide participants with a platform to share information about mechanisms through which higher education supports sustainable development in cities in line with the objectives of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and the New Urban Agenda.The roundtable is open to scholars, policy and decision-makers and practitioners. Those with experience in urban revitalization and implementation of cultural heritage projects will find it valuable.

Guiding Questions

What have universities achieved towards driving innovation in cities to support cultural development since the adoption of the New Urban Agenda?

How can collaboration and networking by universities harness the development and deployment of frontier technologies in cities?

Are universities building the knowledge and skills required to respond to the needs of rapidly growing cities and changing labor markets?

How can universities and their partners contribute to innovation and culture in ways that support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 11 and implementation of the New Urban Agenda?

How can better synergies be created for cities, universities and communities to benefit from each other’s experiences, expertise and knowledge?

Panel 1: Sustainability and local governance for culture and innovation in cities, perspective from universities

Moderator: Dr. Sahar Attia, Chair, UN-Habitat University Initiative (Habitat UNI), Professor of Architecture & Urban Design Department Of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering – Cairo University

1. Dr. Roberto Rocco, Associate Professor of Spatial Planning and Strategy, TU Delft, Netherlands.
2. Dr. Christine Mady, Assistant Professor and Chairperson, Department of Architecture, Ramez G. Chagoury Faculty of Architecture, Arts and Design (RC FAAD).
3. Dr. Christopher Webster, Dean and Chair Professor, Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong.
4. Mr. Mohammed Fellah, Master’s student, Mohamed VI Polytechnic University, Morocco.
Discussant from the floor: Ms. Pauline Emile-Geay, Education Director, Master Governing the large metropolis, Sciences Po Ecole Urbaine, France.

Panel 2: Governance and partnerships for enhanced urban sustainability.

Moderator: Dr. Ana Falu, Professor Emeritus, National University of Cordoba; Executive Director of the network of women and habitat of Latin America and the Caribbean (CISCSA), Habitat UNI Gender Hub Coordinator.

1. Mr. Bernard Combes, Programme Specialist, UNESCO; Global Action Programme on ESD priority action area on Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level through capacity and partnership building; Education Sector Focal Point for Biodiversity.
2. Mr. Manuel Araujo de Quelimane, Mayor of Quelimane, Mozambique.
3. Dr. Amy Tuininga, Director, PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies, Montclair State University, USA.
4. Dr. Anar Valiyev, School of Public and International Affairs, ADA University, Azerbaijan.

Discussant from the floor: Ms. Alaina Beverly, Associate Vice President, Office of Civic Engagement, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA


Summary of Roberto’s speech:

In Particular what was achieved by your university to drive innovation in cities in support of cultural development since the adoption of the New Urban Agenda?


We have re-oriented our courses to address the two crucial topics of our time: sustainability and socio-spatial justice.

Our central tenet is that justice is a condition Sine Qua Non for sustainability.

TU Delft believes that spatial planning, urban and regional design, management, and policy-making must engage with “two converging, yet distinct social movements: sustainability and social justice” (Campbell, 2013, p.75).

The integration of sustainability and justice is urgent, because injustice, inequality and exclusion are widely recognized to erode sustainability, especially when considered that for sustainability to exist, its three essential components (environmental, social, and economic) must exist simultaneously (Larsen, 2012).

Justice underscores in equal measure social, economic and environmental sustainability. The scale and the scope of the transition strategies needed to achieve sustainability demand immediate action from local and national governments, businesses and civic society to design, implement and manage transitions that are not only environmentally progressive, but also socially inclusive.

Whereas spatial justice as a concept has been widely explored, TU Delft assumes that the connections between spatial justice as a condition for social sustainability and spatial strategies for sustainability transitions is lacking.

The fairness and justice of sustainability transition policy relies on a better understanding of the connections between policy, indicators of socio-spatial justice, and citizens’ perceptions and lived experiences of justice or injustice in our cities.

Sustainability transition strategies are founded on the creation of niches or protected ecosystems in which actors, institutions and technology interact in creative and experimental ways to deliver positive innovation. There is a challenge to scale up and mainstream local experiments, that are then expected to upset the status quo and promote change in the wider (policy) regime. But this is impossible without citizen and community engagement in which the justice of solutions underscores acceptability, support and identification. Justice is for policy what truth is for science. We can’t have good policy that is not fair and inclusive and which incorporates the points of view and the knowledge of a wide coalition of social actors.

These ideas are reflected in our education, which is largely studio-based, and real-world problem-oriented, to which we apply design-thinking and vision-making as tools to achieve innovative results.

TU Delft takes part in the writing of an action plan for sustainable development in the Mediterranean for the Union for the Mediterranean Working Group on Urban Regeneration, an intergovernmental organization of 43 member states from Europe and the Mediterranean Basin: the 27 EU member states, the United Kingdom and 15 Mediterranean partner countries from North Africa, Western Asia and Southern Europe. This UfM Action Plan aims to promote integrated sustainable urban development across the Mediterranean region, by encouraging policy and actions coordination and cohesion around the planning and design of the built environment, by focusing on heritage and culture, by promoting local empowerment and capacity building, by promoting citizen engagement, and by supporting implementation and monitoring of spatial interventions.

It does so grounded on the afore mentioned framework’s emphasis on the protagonism of stakeholder involvement and citizen and community engagement in governance arrangements as a means to achieve long term social sustainability, the bedrock upon which long term environmental and economic sustainability, and resilience can be built.


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