The global competition amongst cities opened a wide market for city benchmarks, rankings and prizes to assess and award cities for being (or aiming to become) smart, innovative, green, or, sustainable, amongst others. Such rankings and prizes are increasingly used in city branding, administration and strategic planning and are almost exclusively produced by international consultancy groups, established NGOs or large private corporations. What if civil society organisations awarded city administrations for their efforts to creating a sustainable urban future?

At the World Urban Forum in Medellín a citizen collective from Colombia demonstrated how civil society can fulfil such a benchmarking role for cities and thereby promote positive urban change. The Colombian citizen collective La Ciudad Verde (The Green City) launched the Urban Sustainability Prize (Premio de Sostenibilidad Urbana) in the advent of the World Urban Forum. La Ciudad Verde is a think-do tank, based in Colombia and is active in 7 Colombian cities. The collective has positioned itself as one of the top Spanish-speaking civil society organizations working in favour of (urban) sustainability.

Image

According to La Ciudad Verde, the main goal of the Urban Sustainability Prize is to generate incentives for hundreds of municipalities across Colombia to collect indicators on sustainability and to share them with other city administrations. For establishing the Urban Sustainability Prize La Ciudad Verde collaborated with Universities, other civil society organisations and governmental agencies as well as international organisations. The collective thereby managed to raise the prize’s profile, promote it internationally and reach a wider range of participating municipalities. Once these allies for the Urban Sustainability Awards were secured, La Ciudad Verde was seeking for sponsorship to be able to pay expenses such as the installation of a call centre (more than 200 municipalities had to be called in the advent of the award), or the preparation of a professional communications strategy including visual communications, website and social media.

Image

The trophies of the Urban Sustainability Prize waiting for the winners. (Image by Florian Lorenz)

In the first version of the Urban Sustainability Prize la Ciudad Verde was able to secure applications from 37 municipalities in Colombia. The winning municipalities can look forward to receiving a training course in sustainable urban development including an assessment of sustainability challenges and opportunities for each municipality. These training events touch upon themes such as tactical urbanism or sustainable mobility and invite external experts to work with representatives of the awarded municipalities.

Image

Discussion at the prize-giving ceremony during the World Urban Forum in Medellin. (Image by Florian Lorenz)

This year’s prizes were handed over to representatives of the winning municipalities and civil society organisations during the World Urban Forum in Medellin, providing an excellent venue to celebrate innovative leadership for sustainable urban development. There are several categories within the Urban Sustainability Prize, each awarding one municipality:

  • Municipalities with up to 50.000 inhabitants: Amalfi.
  • Municipalities with between 50.000 and 100.000 inhabitants: Santander de Quilichao No prize was awarded in this category due to insufficient indicators provided by the entrants.
  • Municipalities with between 100.000 and 1.000.000 inhabitants: Ibagué
  • Municipalities with more than one million inhabitants: Bogotá

Image

The winners of the Urban Sustainability Prize with members of the citizen collective La Ciudad Verde. (Image courtesy of La Ciudad Verde)

La Ciudad Verde spokesperson Carlos Cadena Gaitan, explains the process of selecting the winning entries: 

All 18 indicators (mobility, housing, water, energy consumption, waste, etc.) were compiled into one score. The jury of national and international experts, then gave each indicator a specific weight according to their expertise in sustainability, and their knowledge of the local context. The final winners, therefore, were selected according to their specific performance in their relative relationship to the other applicants. This is the strength of our prize. It does not measure the number of tweets, likes, or votes that a city gets, but rather intends to push for the commitment of municipalities by allowing their performance to be measured objectively by the panel of experts.

But the prize does not only award municipalities. There is a second component to the Urban Sustainability Prize, a Creative Sustainability Prize (Premio Sostenibilidad Creativa), through which good ideas for transforming local places are submitted directly by citizens from all over Colombia. The 4 top ideas have received 500.000 pesos (about 200 €), to help the citizens realize their initiatives.

Image

Announcement for the Creative Sustainability Prize. (Image courtesy of La Ciudad Verde)

The entire initiative of the Urban Sustainability Prize has been well communicated by La Ciudad Verde and has gained much recognition amongst the media representatives attending the World Urban Forum. With this award La Ciudad Verde demonstrated how social media can be strategically used by citizen collectives to create a wider audience for their initiatives.

According to La Ciudad Verde other cities in Latin America are also starting to replicate the idea of a citizen-driven award program for municipalities. This is happening due to the fact that many other groups are working on empowering civil society to push for the changes that Latin American cities desperately need. In this way, citizen networks in Latin America are becoming a solid voice pushing for real changes in a rapidly urbanizing world.

In regards to the theme #urbanequity of this seventh session of the World Urban Forum this citizen-driven initiative is an inspiring example of how citizen collectives can strategically add their voices in urban development and management. Such engagement in the urban dialogue does also create more equity in terms of decision-making about our common urban future.