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UTC 1.0 Roles & Opportunities in Urban Sustainability for Small and Mid-Size Cities

UTC 2.0 Roles & Opportunities for Small & Mid-Size Cities in Town/Gown Relationships: Actionable Urban/Rural Planning for The New Urban Agenda

Our impact on the New Urban Agenda has been decisive. The role of small and mid-size cities became a key focus of Habitat III: sustainable urbanization will not take place without empowering local governments, including those of small and mid-size cities it was decided. While today’s 34 megacities (those with a population of over 10 million) are expected to grow to 41 by 2030, the number of intermediate cities also is rising — in many places, far more quickly than any other type of urban expansion. Despite their growing importance, these medium-sized cities have been neglected in international analyses of urbanization to date. The New Urban Agenda seeks to redress that dichotomy. Our recommendations recognizing the increased interdependence between rural and urban areas, re-emphasized by a large contingent of mayors attending Habitat III, have become a critical part of the core tenets of the Habitat Agenda. Learn more about it here at habitat3.org. And be sure to visit our UTC 1.0 website, especially the Resources page.  Our UTC 2.0 website is a work in progress and will continue to add resources and information until the conference.


Urban Thinkers Campus 1.0 and 2.0

UTC 2.0

In 2018, the Joslyn Institute will host its second Urban Thinkers Campus. Earlier plans to hold the conference in 2017 were postponed, due to a number of contributing factors. Please watch this space to learn more about plans for webinars leading up to the next Urban Thinkers Campus, and for details on it..

Cities are the vanguard in addressing immediate effects of climate change, population migration and growth, and infrastructure modernization in the United States. Amidst a general atmosphere of federal and state political deadlock, cities now face frontline and more urgent demands with fewer resources to address
 them. Universities, on the other hand, are virtual laboratories of Big Data, technological breakthroughs, and innovative sustainability research and modeling. The Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities proposes to find common ground among a select number of universities and their host cities in its Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) 2.0, tentatively to be held in Lincoln in the summer of 2018 at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Innovation Campus.

The Roles and Opportunities for Small and Mid-size Cities in Town/Gown Relationships: Actionable Urban/ Rural Planning for the New Urban Agenda is the topic of the conference. Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler and UNL Chancellor Ronald Green, along with Joslyn Institute President and CEO W. Cecil Steward, will host mayors, university administration representatives and other decision leaders from among the 14 cities and universities of the Big 10 Athletic Conference to discuss and lay the groundwork for how these universities and their host cities can collaborate, support, and strategize for long-term sustainability, resilience, and high qualities of life in the upper Midwest and Northeast areas of the U.S.

The November UTC 2.0 conference is intended to be the second of at least two more, following on a format developed for the JISC’s highly successful first Urban Thinkers Campus in November 2015. UTC 2.0 will have a series of concurrent focus group “conversations”, each centered around such strategies as shared learning, communications, data and metrics, research and innovation, among others. University/city, university/university, city/city, urban/rural, university/city/ rural connections and interdependencies will inform the explorations.

We currently are considering producing two to four preliminary webinars leading up to the conference. Watch this space for updates.

UTC 1.0

The Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities hosted its first Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) in November 2015. It was one of 28 UTCs around the world, and one of only two in the United States. Additionally, its primary focus— challenges for small and mid-size cities in the face of population growth and migration, climate change, and consumption of resources—made it the only UTC to focus on rural–urban synergies.

The central goal of the UTC gatherings initiated by the UN-Habitat as part of the World Urban Campaign, was to identify characteristics and core principles of The City We Need to be included in the New Urban Agenda advanced by Habitat III in 2016.  The New Urban Agenda is intended to supplant the guidelines and directives of Habitat II, thereby creating standards for cities and nations, economic and financial entities, NGOs and others to move more strongly toward a just and sustainable future.


The challenges to the cities we need, whether mega-cities or small and mid-sized cities, are many and markedly complex. They cross borders, government jurisdictions, regions, countries, religions, economic status, political ideologies, continents and oceans.  The World Urban Campaign partners pointed to key challenges in 2012. The challenges remain the same, though perhaps intensified, in December 2015. They are as follows:

  • Persistence of an unsustainable model of urbanization;
  • Growing urban inequalities worldwide;
  • Steady increase of the number of slum dwellers (as well as political and environmental refugees) in parts of the world;
  • Increasing urban risks of climate change, and disasters; and
  • Negative consequences of violence and crime, (and increasing concern of terrorism) in cities.

The Role and Opportunities in Urban Sustainability for Small and Mid-Size Cities conference theme centers on the understanding that more than 70 percent of the world’s population lives outside urban areas of more than 500,000 residents. While ample attention has been paid to the expected enormous growth of the world’s mega cities and global urbanization, comparatively scant attention has been focused on the enormously relevant small to medium-sized urban centers during this period of transformative urbanization, as well as on the rural areas that are significant sources for this growth.

These non-urban areas are wellsprings from which we derive myriad resources. From Alaska’s vulnerable commercial and subsistence fishing, to loss of farmland in Nebraska, underutilized farmland in Colombia, and loss of both farming and fishing habitats to pollution in China’s Pearl River delta, it has become abundantly apparent that urbanization is inextricably linked to the health of rural communities and their natural resources.

With local governments leading the vanguard of climate change policy, small to medium-sized (up to 1 million in population) cities are uniquely positioned to explore, promote and exemplify policies supporting sustainable urban-rural interconnections, such as regional food systems and integrated planning, while mitigating the effects of a changing climate.

The Joslyn Institute’s UTC sought to meet the challenge for an increased focus on sustainable planning and policy for small and mid-size cities—from urban centers of fewer than 100,000 people up to 1,000,000, and focuses on the rural-urban synergy and necessity of sound natural resource conservation management in a time of unprecedented growth.

Nearly 200 people from six countries were very much engaged in the colloquy, discussion and break-out work sessions, which addressed such things as innovations in municipal finance, housing, transportation, and much more. The plenary sessions were all streamed live over the Internet, and people from Nairobi to London, China to Colombia, participated.

Nicholas You, UN-Habitat World Urban Campaign Advisor and Chair of the General Assembly of Partners and Media and Communications Constituent Group, said he was most pleased with the Nebraska UTC and said it would be a valued contribution to the combined thinking of other UTCs leading to the Habitat III’s New Urban Agenda.

W. Cecil Steward, President and CEO of JISC, reinforced the fact that 70 percent of the world’s population lives outside urban areas of more than 500,000 residents. The JISC’s UTC debate and consensus about the sustainability challenges and prospective solutions for small and intermediary urban centers, established within rural regions across the globe, are critical to a New Urban Agenda for UN-Habitat III.

He reminded us that smaller urban centers, such as ours in the Flatwater Metroplex region, and surrounding rural areas are significant sources for this growth in the processes of transformative urbanization. Non-urban habitat areas, such as those in our farming region, provide a myriad of vulnerable resources upon which civilizations depend — ranging from declining commercial and subsistence fishing habitats to loss and underutilization of farmland anywhere in the world.

Steward also made the point that smaller cities we need are uniquely positioned to support sustainable urban-rural interconnections. They are de facto learning communities – not unlike the learning community we have formed here for these two days. The sustainability solutions for urban growth in small and medium-sized cities – as active learning communities – are designed to fit the particular conditions and needs of the regions in which they reside.

To learn more about the Urban Thinkers Campus, please visit the website and be sure to spend some time on the Resources page, which contains the Urban Thinkers Campus and New Urban Agenda rationale, as well as all the speakers’ presentations, final report to the World Urban Campaign, and links to the videos of the plenary sessions. Click here to visit the site.