Exciting plans for the Sustainable Urban Development programme as it approaches its 10th anniversary

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The Sustainable Urban Development (SUD) MSc at Continuing Education is branching out in fresh directions as it approaches its 10th anniversary in 2020.

Coming first is a direct link with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. This is being cemented with a workshop to be held at the United Nations HQ this July - Squaring the Circle: global and local approaches to making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The UN is aiming to form partnerships with higher education institutions to help build sustainable and resilient societies, and to this end, a connection is being forged between the UN and the SUD programme – both agreeing that a crucial factor indispensable for the achievement of sustainable development is access to education.

Dr David Howard, Associate Professor in Sustainable Urban Development (@sustainable_urb) has designed the interactive workshop to promote engagement with the UN’s Sustainable Urban Developments goals - a major focus for UN activities up to 2030, following on from the Millennium Development Goals established for 2000-2015. The workshop will discuss ways in which businesses, governments and NGOs can deliver education on sustainable development.

Organised in collaboration with fellow tutor Edward Kellow, students and alumni Leonardo Martins Dias, Darlene Paranaque and Anne-Marie Sowder, and colleagues from around the globe, the workshop is one of only seven proposals from across the world accepted to run at the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainability (HLPF), held in New York between 9-18 July.

The Oxford SUD programme will also be featured as part of a new UN report on Education for Sustainable Development, which features a paper by Dr Howard about linking the exchange of knowledge and continuing professional development, and the importance of promoting lifelong learning.

Networking and new courses

SUD students and alumni make up a 160-strong network from around the world, and Dr Howard is keen to provide opportunities, beyond the two annual dinners in Oxford and annual public lecture in London, for all to meet. The network should be over 250-strong by 2020, and will gather at several events to celebrate.

For now, Dr Howard is hosting a reunion for past and present students on the Masters in Sustainable Urban Development in Brooklyn, New York, in the evening of Friday 13th July. (Details from sud@conted.ox.ac.uk).

As well as the MSc, the SUD programme now also offers a DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development and a new series of public programme day lectures and conferences starts in October 2018. The first three-day conferences include discussion between academics and practitioners on Homelessness & affordable housing (Saturday 13th October 2018), The politics of planning! From region to neighbourhood (Saturday 2nd February 2019) and Community engagement (Saturday 23rd February 2019). 

Dr Howard is particularly excited about a brand new series of six weekly evening lectures starting next year, addressing controversial and pressing urban issues: Oxford 2036: challenges today for tomorrow (6.00 - 7.00pm on Wednesdays, 1st May - 5th June, 2019). Leading researchers and practitioners will deliver a series of topical talks on critical challenges and opportunities for the city over the next two decades, linking local concerns to wider national and global matters. At each weekly lecture, two speakers will present their perspectives on key urban issues, many highlighted in the Oxford Local Plan 2036. The audience will be invited to join the discussion during this new series of lively and practical debates.

The world-changing impact of the SUD course

An urban geographer with research interests in the contemporary Caribbean, David Howard has a special interest in social sustainability – in other words, what makes neighbourhoods ‘work’. He has been completing ethnographic field work over the last few years in Rose Town, in downtown Kingston, Jamaica, where he has recorded residents’ experience of living in a gang-controlled low-income neighbourhood – an experience which, he says, ‘has been inspirational, alarming and the basis for forming some good friendships’. As well as writing academic papers, Dr Howard is completing a book manuscript this year. Provisionally titled Rose Town: dwelling, informality and security, the study will be the first detailed ethnography of low-income urban livelihoods during the current era of urban violence and ongoing intervention by the security forces in Jamaica.

SUD students give powerful feedback about their course. Alumnus Karim Khwanda, from Syria, gave a speech in autumn 2017 to the SUD network, about his work in Syria trying to assist in the physical and societal reconstruction of a shattered state. Khwanda said the MSc in SUD at had an ‘absolutely transformative impact’ on him and his work. ‘In two years, I transitioned from someone who had very little interest in (or knowledge of) the concept of sustainability, especially in the face of what Syria was going through and what I thought the country needed, to someone who understood the ways in which sustainability was central to urban development – whether post-conflict or not,’ he said. ‘I would advise somebody who is considering undertaking the MSc not to hesitate in applying. Completing this degree at Oxford…has changed the way I think, and has really added to my value system and my professional capacity and confidence.’ 

For Dr Howard, this was the first time he has ever attended a lecture in Oxford at which ‘such a natural, responsive outburst of passion was shared within the room’. Hearing this ‘emotionally powerful and charismatic’ speech was ‘inspirational’ and, says Dr Howard, generated a spontaneous standing ovation, and quite a few tears of emotion, from the audience.

Published 28 June 2018