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Holistic perspective to see beyond

Richard Bellingham |

Cities have become the dominant way we live in the world today. But how do we design and construct to ensure optimal quality of life? How do we ensure in particular super-sized places like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata to provide their denizens with the services essential? Cities too offer opportunities to deliver sustainable economic growth and improved quality by providing jobs, transportation, health services and education.

But we must balance this opportunity by minimising pollution and environmental degradation. All of these are massive issues and cities across the planet, not least of all in India, are acutely aware of the problems that come along with growing cities. Increasing emphasis is being placed on urban sustainability as more than 5,000 cities in Europe alone have signed up to ambitious carbon reduction targets.

It is these pressing questions and the demand for people with the skills to make a difference that has prompted the creation of programmes specifically focused on the sustainability of our metropolitan areas including Master’s programme in global sustainable cities at the University of Strathclyde.

Such programmes are about understanding the highly-complex interplay of systems that constitute the modern city and producing graduates with the knowledge and skills to make a positive difference to the way we live, work and learn and cities.

To truly understand cities and visualise as living and evolving entities we must make use of data including big data — the wealth of information collected in today’s digital world by all sorts of agencies, private and public. Employing and analysing data provides insights into new policies and approaches that can be modelled on computer before being put into action.

It allows us to understand individual behaviour, and how cities may change in the future, so we can design solutions that will be appropriate for decades to come. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to the challenges of urban planning as each city is unique with its own problems and opportunities that require their own solutions.

Recently the University of Strathclyde signed agreements with two Indian partners — TERI and TISS to work together on research that will help shape the future of India’s cities and also signed an agreement to work with the New Town Development Authority of Kolkata. This partnerships aim to look at how India’s cities of the future can meet the demands placed on them through smarter approaches to policy and design and make tangible positive differences to people’s lives.

These collaborations will give students enhanced opportunities to understand the major issues and potential solutions for cities in India and across the world as well as benefitting from top level expertise from multiple universities. In order to make a positive change it is important for students to develop an understanding of how cities work and the skills to redesign them for the future, which include how to raise finance and gain the political and community support need to enact transformative strategies and projects.

For programmes focused on sustainable cities and applicants will generally be expected to possess an upper-second class honours degree in a relevant field. This could be engineering, business studies, environmental studies, architecture, urban design, economics, geography, sociology, politics or some other relevant field. Core themes that students will study include topics such as global cities: society and sustainability, city systems and infrastructure, understanding and modelling cities, urban theory, public policy, governance and strategic change, business models, financing and urban business case analysis, and leadership skills for urban change

A range of elective classes will allow students to develop skills in specific areas. Choosing a programme with plenty of opportunities for practical experience is important too. Placements in real world city projects enable them to apply the skills they have gained in a joined up way for projects that make a tangible difference for cities and their citizens. Such placements can also allow to test and develop new career directions.

Programmes are also likely to feature guest speakers bringing valuable insights and the latest real-world knowledge from industry. Fees for international students on Master’s programmes in this field in the UK will be around £17,000 to £20,000 with a range of scholarships available.

Graduates, having gained a holistic perspective to see beyond one single aspect of city life and the ability to develop and deliver viable strategies for change will likely be in high demand.
Careers include working for consultancy, city governance, environmental organisations and NGOs or corporate social responsibility roles within multinational private sector companies, as well as academia and government both at a national and local level, as well as other organisation involved in sustainable development.

The writer is director, Institute for Future Cities, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow