Simin Davoudi is a renowned Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning, and the director of Global Urban Research Unit (GURU) at the Newcastle University. She has served in many prestigious roles some of them include, expert advisor for the United Kingdom government and leading the office of deputy prime minister’s Planning Research Network. She has more than 180 academic publications including 10 books, over 77 articles, 5 special issues, 60 book chapters and numerous government’s commissioned research reports. We had the honor of meeting Professor Davoudi at the second Global Governance annual Symposium, where she gave an inspiring keynote related to resilience, giving us insight on the matter from an architecture and planning point of view. She enriched us with her speech and was very active in the following debate, that offered numerous possible solutions and methods to improve resilience.
We were fortunate enough to have a few moments with the Professor after the Symposium, when we were able to ask her a few more questions about the subject at hand, and also talk about her experience as she has worked in various posts before and the has been active in the academic world as well.
Initially, we asked her which field was more difficult to cope with, the academic or the practical one, to which she answered that both fields are different but they both offer a fantastic experience, adding if you learn from both you attain the opportunity to contribute to both if you have a deep understanding of how they work.
When asked about the seriousness of policymakers towards sustainable development, she emphasized the other catchwords that are replacing the terms “sustainable development”, like “resilience”. She expressed that there are primarily two ways to define sustainable development: one is the ecological modernization, which practically means working in the same way, but making it more environmentally benign. The other is the chance to live within the limits of the environment, adding that the words sustainable development were sold as a win-win situation.
Adding that there always has to be some sort of compromise, as we can not go for economic growth and economic competitiveness without trading something else along the way, she highlighted that people mean different things when they talk about sustainable development as some of them view it as a luxury than an actual issue.
We asked the Professor about the importance of urban and cultural landscaping for
sustainability, to which she stated that its importance lies in the ecological benefits, as it provides people with a sense of identity and helps with their well being, also reducing pollution in general while providing measurable factors like the beauty and tranquility that it provides.
When we asked about the role of cultural heritage in the concept of urban planning
she said: Cultural heritage gives people a sense of place identity and belonging, a memory of our historians our past which are manifested in the objects and the buildings, attach huge value to that, without that our cities and our lives are boring causing a sense
of alienation. Answering our question about Urban sprawl and land consumption is a problem in contemporary society. How can a responsible planning be helpful in coping with the issue she said that it is considered the core of the planning.
It’s a long-standing issue and it is interesting to know how the UK acted in the 40s and 50s. In these decades, the Green Belt principle became like a doctrine for its importance. This doctrine consisted in the idea of placing undeveloped land around cities in which getting plan information to develop anything is difficult, in order to have a control on the growth of the cities and to check that two cities didn’t merge together.
It is possible to say that it has a mixed success in terms of sustainability. In some parts of the country, like the South-East and London, the Green Belt is still there with massive areas of the undeveloped portion of land.
Development has then exceeded over the Green Belt, which means that people have to
do more commutive distance to reach London. That’s why some people asked to “go over” the Green Belt in order to revisit the concept, but the majority of people were still attached to this idea of having these zones outside the cities.
When we asked her about how she implements the concept of resilience to her work she said that in order to constantly think about how to be more flexible and agile in everything we do, the best way is it to avoid the creation of formulated procedures and rigid structure which stifle creativity and imagination. If you find yourself in this situation, you are going to be in a fragile and vulnerable.
The vertical hierarchical structure of the government could be hard to face since it is not
open to change. Meanwhile, the academic environment is more flexible, so it might allow a greater and easier change.
Mohammed Almulla and Riccardo Poggioli.