Winners Announced for 2016 Guangzhou Urban Innovation Awards

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Winners of the Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation pose for a group photo at the award ceremony. The winning cities were Songpa-gu (South Korea), Qalyubeya (Egypt), Copenhagen (Denmark), La Paz (Bolivia) and Boston (US)

The third edition of Guangzhou urban innovation awards took place in the month of December. The plenary session of the one award, one conference and one festival took place on December 7th.  Five cities from five continents won the award at 2016 Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation, the only worldwide award program open to all cities on all topics.

The five winning initiatives and innovations were picked by a technical committee of international city observers from among 15 who had made it to the final list. In total there were three hundred and one submissions from hundred and seventy one cities from fifty nine countries. The finalists presented their projects at the conference venue. The final winners were chosen by unidentified jury members in the audience.

The five cities that finally won the innovation awards were Boston, USA; Copenhagen, Denmark; La Paz, Bolivia; Qalyubia, Egypt; and Songpa-gu, South Korea. Youth engagement was one of the common themes among them. Boston won the award for a participatory budgeting program that gives young people US$1 million to spend on projects of their choosing. Boston won the award for the second consecutive time. Through this fund a vast network has been created involving agencies that serves the youth, universities and schools. It also involves children as young as twelve and homeless, youth involved in gangs or are in detention centres. La Paz won for a program that pays at-risk youth to draw attention to pedestrian safety by standing at road intersections in eye-catching zebra costumes. The program is specially designed not only to save youth at risk from joining the gangs but also to change the behavior of both drivers and pedestrians to obey traffic rules.  These young men are paid a minimum wage to become ‘citizen educators’.  But the larger aim is to save young people from heading into crime and be on the side of the law. It has paid off and many youth have pursued their education and have found decent jobs. This initiative was selected due to its simplicity, transferability and social impact. It has begun to spread to other cities in Bolivia as well as other Latin American countries.

An award was also given for an innovative idea to respond to climate change, both in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emission and adapting to global warming. This award went to Copenhagen and Songpa-gu.  Copenhagen won the award for its efforts to equip parks and streets to absorb large quantities of water and avoid flooding.  The intense impact of heavy rains from a “cloudburst” in 2011 drew the attention of Copenhagen leaders to the need for focused attention on climate risk. The Copenhagen Adaptation Plan was prepared and the St. Kjelds was selected as the pilot area to build neighborhood resilience and improve urban life for its 24,000 residents. Worked out with substantial citizen input, the new resilience strategy focused on “green” strategies to prevent flooding, such as rain gardens, tree planting and biodiversity — solutions seen as scale-able to city level and offering prospective learning for other cities.

Songpa-gu won for its public solar energy plants that share profits with low-income citizens. Songpa built publicly owned solar power plants that share the profits both within and outside the community. One-quarter of the profits go to poor and vulnerable groups and helps pay for energy-efficient lighting or appliances. The rest of the profits are reinvested in new or existing plants, and also to bring renewable power to developing countries such as Mongolia and Vietnam.

There was an award for making efforts at social inclusion. Qalyubia has created a program to streamline waste collection by giving formal employment to ostracized informal waste-pickers. As part of Greater Cairo, Qalyubia has seen rapid urban population growth, which has brought on an increase in informal housing and greater inequality. The municipal government realized that the “Zabaleen” — informal waste pickers —  were essential to manage the escalating volumes of garbage produced by the city. A team was set up to work with the Zabaleen to develop a series of efficient and ecologically aware waste-disposal companies. The Zabaleen now use more efficient motorized tricycles, which navigate the narrow streets and bring the trash to a newly constructed transfer station. The municipality, in turn, converts the waste to fuel for sale. The system has created employment for the 20,000 previously ostracized and impoverished Zabaleen while helping to improve the environmental condition of the city. The awards are given by the city of Guangzhou and are co-sponsored by the world’s two leading organizations of cities — United Cities and Local Governments and Metropolis. Case studies of the winners will be included in the Policy Transfer Platform, a website created by the city of Berlin in collaboration with Metropolis.Nicholas You, director of the Guangzhou Institute for Urban Innovation said that the Guangzhou Awards is not just about expanding the raw numbers of applications in the biennial event, but rather “in scaling up the quality of learning and exchange objectives in the award.”  Before the final fifteen was picked, academics and professionals from Guangzhou visited all 15 finalist cities to learn more about their winning programs.

Ma Peihua, Vice Chairman of National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference gave a keynote speech at the Plenary Session. “The awards will encourage countries to learn from each other and overcome their individual weaknesses,” said Ma in his address. “I believe this event will help cities in China to work more closely with other countries and intensify cooperation,”
he added.

Parks Tau, President of UCLG

“The Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation has made a very positive impact. The whole world is experimenting with innovative projects on sustainable development. We need to learn from each other, to copy, promote and share new concepts”