August 19, 2019

Urban Reflections from the 2019 International Student Delegation

Each year approximately 30 students from leading research universities around the world participate in the global student delegation program at the Pritzker Forum on Global Cities. Promising students who have demonstrated a commitment to improving global cities and are enrolled in a master’s or PhD program are nominated by their host universities to attend. The 2019 delegation included 30 students from 20 countries, including China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Their biographies are available here.

The following series of contributions are their reflections and insights inspired by and drawn from their experience attending the 2019 Pritzker Forum.


Ezgi Bay, Illinois Institute of Technology, United States

As a PhD student whose research focuses on sustainable housing for low-income groups, it was highly informative to discuss how we can change and enhance cities in a better way by creating strong communities, increasing the value, and dealing with violence, crime, and segregation. I have studied the former mayor Sergio Fajardo’s applications for the city of Medellin, and I teach his ideas in classes on urbanism. It was an honor to meet him in person at the Forum.

Golan Ben-Dor, Tel Aviv University, Israel

While engaging with policymakers, transportation authorities, and private companies, I learned that the future of the urban transportation landscape is mostly going to be defined by the private and public sectors, where each party tries to turn the tides towards their agenda. Academia seems to be missing in this timely junction where impactful decisions are being made now for the future. My research focuses on the future of urban transportation using complex simulations. Academia should be more pronounced as a bridge between the public and private sectors as they can provide unbiased, openly available, and critical scientific studies for policymaking.

Mathias Nigatu Bimir, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong

The Forum has enlightened me on several sustainable development concerns in cities and how to deal with them. Concepts and policy ideas, such as greening cities through innovation, smart buildings, and other environmental aspects, were very helpful for my upcoming research activities. The practical experiences, challenges, and approaches pursued by different cities gave me a good background for future career responsibilities.

Bouke Boegheim, Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands

I focus on the interaction between people and the built environment. This interplay of interactions is assessed as an urban system using data in order to advise on how certain challenges should be governed. The panel discussion on housing (un)affordability was very interesting, sharing cross-continental ways to govern housing (e.g. a housing allocation system). The flash talk by Carlo Ratti of MIT also gave a future outlook in promising urban tech applications. 

Eleanore Bryne, DePaul University, United States

The urban landscape is dynamic and cities are at the forefront. Issues such as affordable housing, resilient infrastructure, and efficient transportation systems were put into the global framework. I was able to draw similarities between other municipalities throughout the world and Chicago both in successes and challenges. Participating in the Forum further solidified my passion to combine governmental infrastructure with community-based programming in order to create equitable and sustainable systems across the urban landscape.

Arka Probho Das, University of Tokyo, Japan

As a central banker, I was interested in knowing the economic aspects of the issues faced by global cities. The Forum exposed me to the entire gamut of challenges that continue to bog policymakers all the world over. Particularly, the interplay between women, nature, and growth of global cities opens a whole new perspective for policymakers. My participation in the workshop on urban violence has instigated the idea of whether central bankers can account for urban violence alongside unemployment while modeling economic factors. This holistic approach equips me with the vision to design and implement sustainable and inclusive policies in the future.

Laura de los Santos, Technologica de Monterrey, Mexico

What I loved the most was the diversity of subjects focused on cities: gender, affordable housing, mobility, local governments, art, public-private partnerships. This inspired me greatly to give my research a more practical and holistic application to my hometown of Monterrey in México, connecting the most important subjects surrounding cities.

Tomer Dekel, Ben Guiron University, Israel

As a scholar researching the field of metropolitan regions in Israel and the Global South, the Forum provided me with valuable insights. Of special interest were the panels on housing and the seminar on "vitality of regions beyond global cities." I have learned about the multiple ways in which cities throughout the world deal with the challenges of growth in the face of increasing competition.

Sabine Fritz, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany

The Pritzker Forum changed my view of the potential influence and roles of cities. It seems that when national governments fail or have a different focus, cities may fill the vacuum and act more interconnected and on an international level. Accordingly, research and work at the city level can contribute to a global change of policies without being communicated and disseminated at the national level. However, I also became aware of the dangers posed by independently acting cities. The quote "Every city needs a sugar daddy" still echoes in me in a threatening way.

Ge Gao, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia

Solving pressing city issues seems to be more of a human-centric design problem than a technical challenge. It requires the public and private sectors working together to improve the experiences of urban citizens. As demonstrated by the City of Chicago, I witnessed the power of big data in shaping the municipal policymaking and community building by making the data public and accessible. My research is all about plants, and after the Forum, I see how cities are also living systems that are complex, and constantly evolving. As I embark on an exciting journey in building NEOM in Saudi Arabia, these learnings and friendship I harvested from the Forum will sow the seeds of the city of the future to come.

Sarah Goldberg, TechnionIsrael Institute of Technology, Israel

I had a vague interest in smart cities before the Forum, but hearing so many people talk about their efforts to effectively use data made me realize that I have questions about what organizational and structural factors make the effective use of big data possible. Meeting people working on data issues at the Forum reminded me that I can do better research if I collaborate with people working on these topics in real life, and it is possible that people outside of academia have some of the same questions I do. 

Adam Hii, Loyola University Chicago, United States

My research focuses on healthcare resource management in sub-Saharan Africa. The unique role of cities in distributing resources on a national scale is an important focal point for understanding government efforts to combat healthcare issues. The role that global cities in particular play in outreach and resource management for areas of the globe that are less developed is incredibly important to the effectiveness of healthcare policy.

Weijie Huang, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

The Forum provided me with new insights into data protection. Chicago is now the first US city to publish detailed ride-hailing data, which protects start-up enterprises from being driven out of competition because of data monopoly. Some enterprises also form a data alliance with some rules in data sharing, which is in common with patent pools. With the increasing value of data, more companies would like to join the alliance. In addition to the public sectors and private companies—the boundaries between which have never been so blurred regarding data governance—individual users who contribute the data should have a seat at the table protecting their privacy.

Albert Orta Mascaró, University College Dublin, Ireland

The Forum is a tremendous opportunity for young students to take part in a top-level dialogue about the future of cities worldwide and to pose questions that could hardly be asked in other contexts. One of the best things of the Forum has been meeting other students who share with me the same passion about global cities and hopefully these days spent together are just the beginning of a long-lasting relationship.

Christelle Moussa, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

My research is about fighting the urban heat island (UHI) in the global city of Dubai and takes into consideration the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social, and economic. Besides getting the chance to engage in fruitful discussions, the Forum also gave me the opportunity to network with people who are directly involved with some interesting UHI initiatives in their cities, learning as well what different challenges they have faced and are still facing when it comes to implementation.

Ana Fei Muñoz Mardones, University of Navarra, Spain

Before coming to the Forum, I was very unsure about my career goals. However, being able to listen to such incredible speakers during these few days opened my mind and broadened my horizons. I learned about different topics, approaches, and points of views of global cities, which has helped me to rethink about my future and my real goals in my career and life.

Aisha Naseem, University of Chicago, United States

My research strives to understand the impact of CityKey, a new identification system being used in Chicago, on access to cities for minority users. The Forum allowed me to consider how cities can create safe and sustainable policies although states and national governments may be incongruent with each other regarding these policies. It also examined the role of cities in creating partnerships and implementing programs that have a transnational human benefit. Going forward in my career, the idea of the city as an active participant in policymaking has made me consider running for local office.

Maria Carolina Gil Ribeiro, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Cities are complex ecosystems with a multi-diversity of challenges. Even with all differences, cities have a common ground: the will to achieve a more sustainable and resilient urban life. This is only possible through an equilibrium of forces between all city actors, which is almost impossible to accomplish. This Forum gave me the opportunity to look deep into the cities and see other points of view: economy, security, nature, culture, housing, mobility, etc. This share of new ideas and understandings about cities is crucial to improving my knowledge and finding more innovative and sustainable solutions within my research area: energy and transports.

José Sánchez Cetina, University of Illinois at Chicago, United States

Cities are commonly misunderstood as mere spaces where social, economic, and cultural processes occur. However, thinking of urban environments only as the setting in which public problems and their correspondent solutions evolve overlooks (1) the complexity of said processes, and (2) critical elements that confer city an active role on urban governance rather than a condition of the stage where everything happens. During the welcome remarks, the Council’s president Ivo Daalder emphasized this idea of complexity and dynamism by stating that cities are actors in the global stage, not only places. The central role of cities in the global post-modernity shall not be read only as an empowering discourse claiming for cities to gain more power in designing and implementing coordinated policies, but also as a challenge as big as the dynamism of the largest metropolis in the world. Researchers, firms, non-profit organizations, and policymakers need a venue where global urban issues can be identified, discussed, analyzed and addressed.

Changchi Sun, Fudan University, China

When we talk about the international system it is common to associate it with the nation-states. However, since the 21st century, global cities have an important influence on global governance outcomes. All cities aim to increase prosperity, promote social inclusion, and sustainable development. In this process, cities have unique advantages, including community integration experience, adequate financial resources, and transnational communication capacity. Global cities will become one of the most important actors in the international system in the future. And the capacity of cities to participate in global governance will also become an indicator for measuring comprehensive national strength.

Stephanus van der Westhuyzen, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

I developed compassion and empathy for my fellow next-generation leaders and the importance of always seeing something in the context of people's history and culture, and to allow your preconceived ideas to be challenged. In the field of engineering, we tend to stay away from politics and policy—something which was extensively covered at the Forum. This was thought-provoking in the sense that it made me realize that you simply can't exclude yourself from politics if your intention is to put lasting change into motion. As a result of this, I plan to investigate our specific building regulations in South Africa and to see to what extent does the regulations promote environmentally friendly development (specifically tall timber structures, my area of research).

Dennis van Soest, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

The Forum allowed me to get a much broader view of issues in cities than I usually do in my narrow field of transport. Throughout the wide variety of topics, it was clear cities deal with practical difficulties in implementing certain policies or solving contemporary problems. These do not always come forth in mostly theory-based research at the university. All these new insights help me in understanding cities, which is the context of my PhD research.

Deepank Verma, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India

The Forum detailed out the minute nuances which are otherwise overlooked when studying characteristics of the cities as a whole. The discussions on artificial intelligence in defining a new era of transportation and providing solutions to migration crisis were excellent. The Forum enhanced my knowledge about the problems experienced by cities other than those in my home country. It helped me see cities as engines of growth and development, which should take precedence in decision making in issues such as global warming and migration rather than countries at the central level.

Paola Villegas, Northwestern University, United States

I found myself rethinking the role of city infrastructures. In particular, the digitization of cities offered insight into how data is central to both the social and physical infrastructure of a city. From housing to transportation, questions concerning the ethics of big data generated lively conversations on the challenges of sharing and managing information. The diverse groups of panelists allowed me to appreciate the wide range of strategies and perspectives on how cities may adapt to meet existing and emerging challenges.

Joseph Wanjira, Kenyatta University, Kenya

Traveling from Kenya to attend the conference gave me an insight of how cities can play a bigger role in shaping countries by taking part in decision-making. Africa, and particularly Kenya as a developing country, has so much potential if it implements some policy guidelines for the construction of modern infrastructure. I thank the Council for the opportunity and hope that whatever I gained from attending will one day be put into practice for the sake of Kenya and the well being of Kenyan citizens.

Tim White, London School of Economics, United Kingdom

It’s hard not to question whether these sorts of gatherings do more to perpetuate than resolve the issues they set out to address. Conversations about affordability and inclusivity while tickets can cost as much as $2,000, with a crowd dominated by suited old white men. Rather than activating change, it felt like an exclusive event that, above all, maintains the status quo for the existing powers in urban development. A more generative programme on sustainability and inequality might question the role of vast corporations, such as those taking center stage in the forum - and the unfettered ‘growth’ mantra that underpins their interests - in propping up the destructive processes affecting global cities.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


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