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“We consider our students as active agents of transformation” Get to know the teachers behind the Sustainable Cities and Societies summer course

The Sustainable Cities and Societies course explores how we can navigate and facilitate urban sustainability transformations. We delve deep into the heart of urban planning and design, viewing cities not just as a mass of concrete, but as vibrant socio-ecological ecosystems.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi and Elif Erdoğan Öztekin
Course instructors Anahita Rashidfarokhi and Elif Erdoğan Öztekin

The Sustainable Cities and Societies graduate-level summer course takes place in August this summer with course instructors Anahita Rashidfarokhi, postdoctoral researcher in the field of sustainable built environment and urban planning, and Elif Erdoğan Öztekin, postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Architecture at Aalto University. In this interview, Anahita and Elif share their perspective on how the summer course navigates urban sustainability transformations.

The need for sustainable cities and societies has never been more critical. We stand amidst interconnected crises, from climate-related challenges to biodiversity loss, from unequal distribution of resources across the world’s societies to political conflicts. Cities, while platforms for innovation and change, often find themselves unintentionally fueling unsustainable practices and carbon emissions. It's a paradox that demands urgent action as well as critical reflection.

However, our mission extends far beyond the limits of the courses and classrooms. We're nurturing the next generation of decision-makers and urban residents, building their capacities to become catalysts for change. Equipped with a toolkit of sustainability principles and collaborative strategies, our students will emerge as advocates for tomorrow's resilient cities. We consider our students as active agents of transformation, ready to confront the future with bold ideas and unwavering determination. In this course, we aim to not just plant seeds of ideas; but also cultivate a forest of change-makers, ready to shape the sustainable cities of the future.

How can sustainable urban planning work against the constant threat of climate change?

Urban planning plays a pivotal role in our collective response to the ever-present threat of climate change. Fundamentally, urban planning is a boundary practice, which holds the potential to facilitate dialogue and collaboration among diverse urban stakeholders who represent various perspectives and future expectations. This inclusive approach is vital as we navigate the complexities and challenges of sustainability transitions. 

Urban planning is a creative practice at its core. It provides a strategic outlook into what sustainable futures our cities can hold and how our societies can grow into those futures.

A man photographed from behind, standing with his bike looking at an older house building.
Photo: Beatrice Bucht

In what ways do your different backgrounds and fields of expertise complement each other as teachers in this course?

As co-teachers in this course, our diverse backgrounds and fields of expertise offer complementary perspectives that enrich the learning experience for students.

Anahita's background in sustainable built environment and urban planning and her transdisciplinary approach bring a deep understanding of the complex challenges inherent in sustainable urban development. Her research focuses on social-ecological resilience and transformative potential, emphasizing practical solutions and collaborative knowledge creation with academic and non-academic partners.

On the other hand, Elif's expertise lies in design for sustainability transitions, drawing from her background in architecture and design. Her research explores the agencies of design in leading sustainability transitions and societal change processes, particularly through participatory urban planning and transition governance. Elif's transdisciplinary and action-oriented research approach leads her collaborations with multiple urban stakeholders and enables the co-creation of knowledge and action.

How will this course benefit students in their future careers?

This course offers students various competencies that will enrich their future careers. Through collaborative workshops and real-life cases, they will learn to translate theoretical insights into practical solutions. In this way, they will improve their problem-solving skills and practice how these skills can be utilized to tackle real-world challenges they may encounter in their future careers.

Moreover, the emphasis on inclusive and collaborative decision-making processes fosters skills essential for effective leadership and teamwork in transdisciplinary professional settings. By exploring future pathways and transformation challenges, students develop foresight and strategic thinking abilities crucial for anticipating and adapting to evolving trends and disruptions in their careers. They emerge equipped to drive positive change and innovation in their respective fields, whether in urban planning, environmental consulting, policymaking, community development, or beyond.

The application period for Sustainable Cities and Societies is open until May 31st, 2024. 

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Sustainable Cities and Societies

Whether you're an aspiring urban planner, environmental advocate, or simply passionate about building a better world, the Sustainable Cities and Societies summer course is your gateway to understanding and contributing to the sustainable cities movement. Come visit Aalto University and embark on a journey that will give you a practical and theoretical understanding of sustainability principles, both social and ecological!

Enroll in our brand-new graduate course and join a community of like-minded peers. This course is designed to provide you with a practical and theoretical understanding of sustainability principles, both social and ecological. Through a comprehensive overview of sustainability in urban contexts, students will be part of a collaborative learning environment where they can share and learn from each other's experiences.

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