Photo competition: Visions of sustainable cities
A picture is worth a thousand words: find out how a photo competition and exhibition at COP27 helped highlight visions of desirable and sustainable cities.
Using the power of visualization and imagination, partners in the Transformative Urban Coalitions project (TUC), supported by the German Government International Climate Initiative (IKI) organized a photo contest. The best 18 photos were exhibited at the Capacity-building Hub at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
Photographers from diverse backgrounds captured scenes and provided explanations to portray a vision of a desirable and more sustainable city. Submissions were made by people from ages 15-60 coming from 24 different countries. They captured urban life in 32 countries across five continents.
An international jury, including Mathilde Bonnefoy (Oscar-winning filmmaker and photographer) and Dirk Wilutzky (Oscar-winning filmmaker and producer) assessed the photos on several criteria. These included appropriateness to the contest theme, storytelling impact, creativity and originality and composition. “I am touched by the variety of worlds that reveal themselves thanks to this contest,” said Mathilde Bonnefoy, editor and director, known for movies such as Run Lola Run (1998), Citizenfour (2014) and The International (2009).
Evaluation of the photos makes a contribution to research
Besides yielding impressive photos, the competition also had a research component, following the project’s transformative research and communication approach. An analysis of the photos and the related explanations shed light on universal features and patterns of desirable and sustainable cities. "At the photo exhibition we were able to look at different urban areas from around the world through the eyes of the contestants, showing inspiring cases of how to make our cities better," said Angélica Vesga, Interim Executive Director of WRI México and Colombia, project partner in the TUC project.
Overall, a total of 131 unique keywords were found after the data had been processed. They could be clustered into groups, providing insight into how contestants envision urban futures. Most addressed features like solar power and sustainable buildings, urban nature covering green areas or trees and the importance of reducing impacts from disasters like floods. Furthermore, aesthetic aspects mattered to the contestants, which was clear through their descriptions of areas captured as beautiful or charming. The most named keywords were “green”, “beautiful”, “safe”, “creative” and “resilient”. Results also showed nuances between continents. The most named keywords from Africa described urban features as “beautiful”, “clean” and “inclusive”, whereas the Americas’ top keywords described aesthetical values such as “green”, “inclusive” and “modern”. In Asia it was “green”, “beautiful”, “safe”; and Europe showed a stronger focus on mobility with words like “bicycle”, “green” and “public transport”.
Interestingly, differences were also found between genders. While female contestants named community, justice and safety aspects more, men focused on mobility and urban features.
“The results show what people appreciate about cities. They indicate that most do not only want their city to function, but also to serve as a home, as something beautiful and enabling. Simultaneously, it highlights existing challenges and potential solutions on the local scale, from urban agriculture to recycling to community engagement,” says Simone Sandholz, Head of the Urban Futures and Sustainability Transformation (FAST) programme at the United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security.
Apart from the COP27 exhibition displaying the outcomes of the contest, it also served to collect further data, by asking COP attendees their opinion to be analysed in the coming weeks.
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