Winners announced for 2016 Guangzhou Urban Innovation Awards

Five cities on five continents are winners of the 2016 Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation, the only worldwide award program open to all cities on all topics.

The winners are Boston, USA; Copenhagen, Denmark; La Paz, Bolivia; Qalyubeya, Egypt; and Songpa-gu, South Korea. The final five were chosen by a jury at the International Urban Innovation conference held this week in Guangzhou, China. This is the third time the Guangzhou Awards have been given; the first two rounds were in 2012and 2014.

Youth engagement was one theme among this year’s winners. Boston won for a participatory budgeting program that gives young people US$1 million to spend on projects of their choosing. 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. (It’s a play on the term “zebra crossing.”)

Another theme was responding to climate change, both in terms of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and adapting to global warming. Copenhagen won an award for its efforts to equip parks and streets to absorb large quantities of water and avoid flooding. Songpa-gu won for its public solar energy plants that share profits with low-income citizens.

Efforts at social inclusion were also honored. Qalyubeya created a program to streamline waste collection by giving formal employment to ostracized informal waste-pickers.

The winning initiatives were among 15 finalists selected by a technical committee of international city observers. (Descriptions of all the finalists are below.) Those 15 were culled from an initial pool of 301 submissions from 171 cities in 59 countries. The finalists presented their projects this week in Guangzhou, with the final winners chosen by unidentified jury members in the audience.

The process is conducted by the city of Guangzhou and cosponsored 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.

[Read: Berlin’s tool to help urbanists cope with ‘award overload’]

Nicholas You, director of the Guangzhou Institute for Urban Innovation, notes that the Guangzhou Award is not interested in expanding the raw numbers of applications in the biennial process, but rather “in scaling up the quality of learning and exchange objectives in the award.” (Editor’s note: Nicholas You is a member of the Citiscope board of directors.)

Following the first two rounds of the awards, academics and professionals from Guangzhou visited all 15 finalist cities to learn more about their winning programs. Another round of tours is expected this time, with officials seeking to expand outreach and participation with representatives from other cities and the media.

Summaries of the 15 finalists for the 2016 Guangzhou Awards for Urban Innovation


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Development of a sustainable transport system

Addis Ababa, one of the largest cities of Africa, expects its current population of 3.6 million people to double in the next 15 years. In preparation for this growth, the city has chosen to develop a high quality bus rapid transit (BRT) system that will help shape the patterns of its future metropolitan growth. But Addis Ababa’s transit approach — modeled in part on the successful BRT system in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania — is also designed to promote high quality of urban life. Residents are projected to have efficient bus access on exclusive rights-of-way, providing access to the center city without interference from cars, minibuses and trucks. The project also includes ample pedestrian crossings, with footpaths and accompanying bicycle paths. The project is expected to serve over 3,000 passengers per hour in each direction.

Asunción, Paraguay
Master plan for the historical downtown

The center of Asunción, Paraguay’s capital and a city of 525,000, faces decay with poor quality, low-rise buildings and residents leaving the central core. To counter the trend, Asunción is emphasizing mixed-use development, new parks, improved public spaces, a creative economy and tourism. Importantly, the initiative seeks to reconnect the city more closely to the Paraguay River with a series of parks, a nature reserve and flood management strategies. The city was selected as an example of how towns and depopulated historic cores can reverse decay by increasing density, providing quality public space and engaging community residents in the process.     

Boston, USA
Youth lead the change: youth participatory budgeting

Boston’s breakthrough effort to engage young people in actual city decision making — allocating US$1 million a year in city infrastructure funds — becomes the first of the Guangzhou Awards to be recognized two times. The first win in 2014 (and featured in thisCitiscope story), focused on the uniqueness — both for the United States and internationally — of Boston’s effort to stimulate  interest among youth  in civic affairs and to educate future city leaders. Now an extensive network of partnerships has been created with youth-serving agencies, universities and schools. Other advances include engaging children as young as 12, as well as the homeless and youth involved in gangs or in detention centers. National and international partnerships are being forged with other cities such as Baku, Azerbaijan.

Brussels Capital Region, Belgium
Urban ‘Greenbizz’ incubator

Brussels is embarking on redevelopment of a vast section known as the Canal Area, a long-term project that will roll out over many years and impact neighborhoods that are home to nearly one in five city residents. The breadth and long-term vision of the initiatives appealed especially to the committee judging the Guangzhou Award entries. The innovation was seen in the region’s broad definition and follow-up implementation of a holistic, detailed strategy running from revamping old housing stock to regeneration of brownfield areas, plus placemaking and place branding, social engagement and environmental transformation. The comprehensive approach demonstrates how different stakeholders — public, private and people — can effectively come together to conceive and redesign a new positive image of the city through urban regeneration.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Climate resilient neighborhood

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. (Read a Citiscope story on the project here.) 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.

Jakarta, Indonesia
Participatory planning and good governance

With a population of more than 10 million, the rapidly developing megacity of Jakarta has sought to reorganize — and democratize — its complex municipal budget planning system. The participatory process is designed to reflect, in an annual development and budgeting plan, the infrastructure, social and economic demands of the city’s 2,726 sub-district communities and more than 30,000 neighborhood communities. The model features a grassroots networking mechanism — community proposals decided in area-development planning meetings and then submitted to the city government through web-based applications. More than 46,000 proposals were received by the city government in 2016. The bottom-up process is combined with the top-down urban plans to formulate the annual development and budgeting plan, to be implemented in turn by 750 city departments/units — a model of participatory planning that might inspire learning processes by mega-cities and metropolises worldwide.

La Paz, Bolivia
The La Paz zebras: citizen culture project

In La Paz, at-risk youth are candidates for gangs. Now, some of them are paid a minimum wage to become “citizen educators” by dressing up in zebra costumes at traffic intersections. (It’s a play on the term “zebra crossing” — striped areas where pedestrians cross the street.) As described by its supporters, the program’s aim is also to change both driver and pedestrian behavior and to encourage both groups to obey traffic signs and rules.But the larger payoff is to give young people who might otherwise head into lives of crime a reason to be on the side of the law, and to encourage others to respect rules and order — a potentially life-altering experience. Many of the youth participating in the initiative have continued their education and found decent jobs; a few have pursued higher education. 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.

Luleburgaz, Turkey
Egalitarian approach to transit management

In Luleburgaz, as in many other cities, women are the principal users of public transportation. The initiative adopted there requires that municipal transport policy decisions now be made by a team composed of 50 percent women — a drastic change from the previously male-dominated public management system. Women have since taken on key management positions in the city’s transit management. This initiative was seen as deeply transformative of how public resources are allocated in more gender-sensitive and egalitarian terms and can serve as an exemplar for other cities.

Malang, Indonesia
Transforming Glintung from a flood-risk area    

Roughly 5.5 percent of Malang’s population, mostly informal-sector workers, inhabit a slum area, known as Glintung, that is vulnerable to floods and disease. But with city government support, the neighborhood’s leaders have developed an environmentally-sustainable approach to improve local conditions and address climate change. Initiatives have included tree planting, building water catchment areas in every house, constructing vertical sky gardens, producing organic produce and integrating local cultural heritage. The technical solutions were provided by Faculty of Engineering, Brawijaya University. Local businesses provided a dedicated market for organic food products. The award committee selected the Malang city initiative because of the innovative community approach to building resilience to climate change and the green approach to local economic development — as well as the possibility that the project may to inspire other low-income communities and informal settlements worldwide to improve their living environment, engage in local economic development and improve nutrition.

Menashe, Israel
Education towards co-existence of Israeli Jews and Arabs

The Jewish and Arab communities in the Wadi area of Menashe are totally segregated and do not socialize. They have limited knowledge of developments and happenings in each other’s communities. Against the backdrop of prevailing political tensions, this leads to stereotyping, fear and hatred. In an effort to raise these communities´ understanding of each other, a program was developed to bring together nine pairs of school classes — one each from Jewish and Arab communities. The program involves six months of intensive joint activities to learn about each other, develop mutual trust, share a common area and work collectively on projects. This effort has brought together 600 students, dozens of teachers and over a thousand parents — a model  to address alienation and distrust in cities.

Qalyubeya, Egypt (Cities of Khosoos and Khanka)
Integrated community-based solid waste management project

As part of Greater Cairo, Qalyubeya 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.

Ramallah, Palestine
Smart city, freedom through technology     

Through a coherent strategy involving partnerships with academic institutions, local and national government as well as international agencies, the municipality has undergone a process of updating data management systems and improving IT services, creating a more reliable technological infrastructure. This has drastically improved communications, allowing the municipality to realize impressive results in mobility, environment, education, health, planning and governance and access to services.

Songpa-gu, South Korea
Songpa solar sharing power plant

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.

Tampere, Finland
Model regional circular economy concept for cities, companies and citizens

This initiative is a non-profit company, owned by 17 municipalities, providing residents waste management services. The initiative provides an open platform for private enterprises to develop advanced and innovative solutions in waste management based on the principle of a circular economy (aiming to reduce waste and avoid pollution by design). The municipalities of the Tampere Region have decided that one of the main goals is to develop the management of the entire waste chain with focus on resource recovery and costs paid by the customers.

Tlajomulco de Zuñiga, México
Environmental law prosecution local office

Once a lightly-populated agricultural area on the outskirts of Guadalajara, this region is experiencing rapid and poorly planned urbanization that has saturated current public service capacities. In response, the Tlajomulco Municipality has created a Municipal Environmental Protection Agency to create a legal framework — derived from participatory planning approaches — to build climate change and sustainability policy into local government. The plan focuses on developing policies to reduce air pollution and water consumption, and to increase social awareness of environmental challenges. Implementation strategies include enforcement, the establishment of a local reward system, and citizen involvement in surveillance.

Image: Brussels, Belgium (

Source: Citiscope

This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.