Innovative Session VI

Thursday, 9 September 2021
10:30 – 12:00 CEST

Urban governance in an age of compound crises


Dr. Linda Westman (Urban Institute, University of Sheffield)
Dr. Rachel Macrorie (Transforming Cities Hub, Utrecht University)
Dr. Marielle Papin (McGill University, Montreal)

Three themes are dealt with by discussants


Christopher Orr, McGill University
Julie Greenwalt, co-chair for the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) for Cities
Dr. James Patterson, Assistant Professor at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University


Guillaume Lessard, University of Waterloo
Ibinado Johnson: Journalist and activist at Chicoco Radio
Dr. Francesca Pilo’, Assistant Professor in Planning, Utrecht University


Robyn Mansfield, Monash University
Tara Caetano, Senior Professional Officer in Climate Change, Energy and Resilience for ICLEI Africa
Prof. Jeroen van der Heijden: Professor of Public Governance, Victoria University of Wellington

Cities play a central role in navigating major global disruptions, from COVID-19, climate emergency, economic downturn, social inequality, institutional racism, to political polarisation. These crises are commonly treated in isolation; however, it is increasingly clear that not only do multiple crises co-occur, but they are also fundamentally linked through systemic interactions, underlying drivers, and interdependent outcomes. Yet, scholarship and policy dialogue have to date displayed limited engagement with the conceptual, methodological, practical, and ethical challenges generated by these emergent interactions.

Recognising the need for such interdisciplinary debate, this session brings together insights from scholars and practitioners to interrogate three urban governance challenges associated with compound crises:

  1. Unsettlement: Dealing with systemic drivers of shocks set against enduring structural urban crises. The interaction of slow-moving crises and sudden shocks (e.g. the Covid-19 pandemic), result in systemic dysfunction and unsettles everyday-lives already experiencing permanent states of precarity. How can urban decision-makers identify and tackle the systemic drivers of compound crises and how do they know when they get this right?
  2. Unevenness: Addressing the justice implications resulting from uneven experiences of, impacts and responses to compound crises. Urban crises affect groups differently and uneven impacts are often linked with historical patterns of inequality and justice, such as those arising from the legacies of a postcolonial world order. How can intersectional approaches to tackle compound crises be integrated into urban governance strategies?
  3. Unbounding: Reimagining authority and agency as inherent to compound crises indicate that current problem framings are insufficient. Through the interaction of multiple forms of crises, traditional problem framings, response programs, and responsibilities may become inappropriate and ineffective. How can the disciplinary boundaries and fundamental structures of urban governance be rethought, whilst enabling inclusive and democratic decision-making?

Julie Greenwalt is an expert on climate change, sustainable cities and nature-based solutions with a focus on informality. She has worked in a range of countries including Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, and Uganda. She is currently the co-chair for the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) for Cities.

James Patterson is an Assistant Professor at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University. His work focuses on the institutional and political dynamics of domestic climate change governance (spanning urban, subnational, and national levels). His work is situated at the intersection of environmental studies and political science.

Ibinado Johnson is a member of the Chicoco Collective in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. As part of the Chicoco Maps, Ibinabo co-authored a publication on climate change adaptation and community development in informal waterfront communities in Port Harcourt. She has a Masters degree in Human Anatomy from University of Port Harcourt.

Francesca Pilo’ is an Assistant Professor in Planning at Utrecht University. Her research interests lie in the political role of urban infrastructures in mediating the relationship between the citizens and institutional actors. In particular, her research focus concerns the governance of urban infrastructure, the interaction between the electricity service, citizenship, urban inequalities and energy transition. She conducted extensive research in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and more recently in Kingston (Jamaica).

Tara Caetano is a Senior Professional Officer in Climate Change, Energy and Resilience for ICLEI Africa. She is an energy economist with more than a decade of experience in climate change and development in the African context. She holds an Engineering Masters in Energy Studies from the University of Cape Town. Her experience includes leading projects across Africa at the national and subnational level in areas such as long-term emission development strategies, energy transitions, development economics, and the circular economy.

Jeroen van der Heijden is a Professor of Public Governance at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He has been studying urban climate governance for over 15 years. Notable publications include Innovations in Urban Climate Governance (Cambridge University Press, 2017) and Governance for Urban Sustainability and Resilience (Edward Elgar, 2014).

Christopher Orr is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the SPROUT Lab at the University of Waterloo. He researches how societies can better govern complex environmental challenges. Applying diverse methods, this work reveals insights about and fosters community action on climate change, water policy, forest management, and urban transformations.

He completed his PhD in the Economics for the Anthropocene (E4A) project at McGill University in 2020. His doctoral research focused on understanding deep transformations in society-nature relationships and explored their dynamics in the context of Canadian climate change politics. He holds an MSc from McGill University and a BSc in Physics and Environmental Science from the University of Toronto.

His current research and policy work focuses on climate action and transformative visions of wellbeing. He is co-investigator on a project called Sustaining and Strengthening City Climate Action in the COVID-19 crisis for a green and climate-resilient recovery. He recently co-edited Liberty and the Ecological Crisis: Freedom on a Finite Planet.

Guillaume Lessard’s Ph.D. thesis in urban studies explored how sustainable housing is framed, discussed and implemented in Quebec, Canada. In it, he analyzed sustainable housing policies and used tiny houses in Quebec as a case study to cover the subject of the ambiguous relation of sustainable housing to the sustainable urban transition. Guillaume currently holds a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Waterloo and at McMaster University. The project will study the role of accessory dwelling units in the provision of affordable housing and in urban consolidation strategies. In addition, he works alongside non-profit organizations specialized in sustainable urban planning and in sustainable housing.

Robyn Mansfield is an international humanitarian settlement design, livelihoods and community consultation specialist. Robyn’s focus is on amplifying the voices of marginalized groups in communities facing hardship, in particular after disasters or conflict. She has an extensive background in local government and has consulted on a range of international projects in Asia and the Pacific region, Europe, South America, and the Middle East. Robyn is a qualified landscape architect and holds Master degrees in International and Community Development, and Disaster, Design and Development. Robyn has lectured at Monash University and RMIT in a range of urban resilience studies.

Robyn is currently undertaking a PhD at Monash University focusing on the participation of children in urban planning for vulnerable settings.