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URBAN Matters

Podcast series on sustainable cities


podcast-logo-URBAN Matters

As the world gets back on its feet after the devastating impact of the pandemic, we are going to need to think differently about how we solve some of the major problems facing the planet. How will we recover from its effects will depend, in large part, upon the vision of our cities?

Today urban residents make up half the world’s population – a proportion that is projected to grow to two-thirds within a generation. Many of the cities are growing fast although there are cities which are shrinking and therefore losing their population and revenues.

Cities are greatly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. So how do we stop our cities from fuelling more disease outbreaks and other “ills”, such as inequality, air pollution and climate change? If we don’t solve these problems in our cities, we might not solve them at all.

In a new podcast series, “URBAN Matters”, Tom Miles, a renowned journalist, will be asking mayors and urban experts on how cities are rising to the challenge, and how they can join forces to share ideas and address city challenges related to the pandemic. The podcast consists of 10 episodes.

Hear all about cities in URBAN Matters on your regular podcast platform every Wednesday.  

Links to the podcast:


The podcast will be available soon in the podcast platform of Apple and Google.

Episode 1  The Forum of Mayors

In this episode, Urban Matters host Tom Miles speaks to Paola Deda, Director of the UNECE Forests, Land and Housing Division, and Sami Kanaan, Mayor of Geneva in Switzerland, who co-chaired the Forum of Mayors and asks about the role of cities in the global efforts to tackle poverty and climate change, how that role has changed and how it might change more in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which has transformed working habits and disrupted traditional city life, and why the United Nations convened a “Forum of Mayors” in Geneva in October 2020.

Episode 2  Fire Safety in Buildings

This episode looks at fire safety, an age-old problem that is still a danger even for the most advanced cities. Fire safety tends to hit the news only when tragedy strikes, but the lessons learned tend to stay local, with little momentum for international best practice.

Gary Strong, a Global Building Standards Director at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, talks to Urban Matters host Tom Miles about why fire safety is a vital ingredient in the global trend towards urbanization, and why there are sometimes obstacles to turning the life-saving fire safety message into real action. He also describes his own family’s lucky escape from a fire, “one of those things you never forget”.

Episode 3  Informal Settlements

This episode looks at the phenomenon of informal settlements in cities – a wide-ranging term that covers a multitude of different problems, from squatters and unsanctioned construction to slum districts arising from an influx of migrants. People living in informal settlements are often vulnerable because they lack access to basic services such as health, sanitation and schools.

Chryssy Potsiou and Steven Nystrom talk about the problem and potential solutions of informal settlements. Chryssy is a professor at the National Technical University of Athens and an honorary president of the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG). Steven is principal of Florida based Newstream Companies and an expert in property valuation, and he also chaired the Valuation Commission at the FIG.

Chryssy and Steven tell Urban Matters host Tom Miles about the scale of the problem, with an estimated 50 million people living in informal settlements in Europe and 1 billion worldwide, and why they are optimistic that progress can be made in the decade ahead.

Episode 4  Smart City Profiles

How do you gauge whether your city is doing as much as it can to be more sustainable and “smart” using technology and information to harmonise and improve the social and environmental aspects of city life?  This episode, the fourth in the series, digs into the evaluation of cities and the 91 key performance indicators (KPIs) that UNECE uses to evaluate the smartness and sustainability of a city. The KPIs collectively paint portraits of cities that are known as “smart city profiles”, taking into account the economy, environment, and society and culture, with a cross-cutting thread of information and communication technologies.

So how does it feel to live in a smart city? What benefits does it bring? How do we avoid the pitfalls associated with collecting vast amounts of data about city life?

In this episode, Urban Matters host Tom Miles talks to Agata Krause, a UNECE expert on the KPI evaluation of cities, and Kristian Mjoen, Executive Secretary of the Centre for Sustainable Development in Norway and head of the Geneva UN Charter Centre of Excellence on SDG City Transition in Trondheim.

Episode 5  People-Smart Cities

What does it take to get to a liveable green and prosperous future? As cities get smarter and become more resource efficient and sustainable, it’s important that we don’t neglect the vital ingredient: Us, people, the city inhabitants! Cities cannot be merely functional habitats - they must be truly liveable, enjoyable, comfortable environments for those who live there. They need to be serviced by – and not in the service of – the latest technology.

This episode, the sixth in the series, looks at the evolution of cities, and how they will continue develop in the future, taking lessons from the past and building back better after the pandemic. Urban Matters host Tom Miles welcomes Lord Norman Foster, a world-renowned British architect, and Dr Oleg Golubchikov, Reader in Human Geography at Cardiff University in Wales, for an insightful conversation from two leading thinkers on this topic.

Episode 6  Promoting circularity in cities

Circularity is a concept that is often mentioned by urban experts and advocates of smart sustainable cities as an alternative to the traditional linear economic development model. Circularity can be used as a tool to address the most pressing global challenges faced by cities such as climate change, rapid urbanization and scarcity of natural resources. Moving towards a circular economy will require a major transformation of current production and consumption patterns. Indeed, it is a vital ingredient of the transformation if we are going to make cities function in a green and socially responsible way. So, what does circularity mean, and what role will it play in our future cities?

In this episode, Urban Matters host Tom Miles talks to Dr. Okan Geray, Strategic Planning Advisor of Smart Dubai and an author of a UNECE Guide to Circularity in cities, and Gulnara Roll, Secretary to the Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management at UNECE to find out more about how a circular economy can support sustainable urban development and create positive economic, social and environmental impacts in cities.

Episode 7  Affordable housing in the post-COVID era

Housing is not a luxury, but a basic human right. So why is it that there are still so many people who cannot afford a decent home? And is there a chance the COVID-19 pandemic might prompt our societies to take a fresh look at solving the problem?

In 2015, UNECE endorsed the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing, a non-binding document that aimed to help its member states to tackle the problem of affordable housing, and after decades of growing inequality there are signs that attitudes might finally be changing.

In this episode, Urban Matters host Tom Miles talks to Elena Szolgayova and David Orr, co-chairs of #Housing2030, an initiative that has designed a policy toolkit for governments to act on affordable housing. David and Elena explain why they are optimistic about a sea-change in policies affecting affordable housing.

Episode 8  Foreseeing the unforeseeable

How well were cities prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic? What can we learn, what have we already learned, about local responses to emergencies such as the pandemic? Are cities robust and resilient? If not, what more could be done to make them better prepared for emergencies in future?

Preparing for the next crisis is not an insurance policy, but a necessity. Beyond the pandemic, at least one global crisis is already at hand: climate change. So, will the pandemic leave us better prepared for the global environmental challenge?

In this episode, Urban Matters host Tom Miles talks to the Leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, and Dmitry Pozhidaev, Regional Programme Advisor at the UN Capital Development Fund, to get the first-hand experience and the global picture of how cities have risen to the challenge, and what lessons they have learned.

Episode 9  Shaping the Future

Many city leaders are determined to make their cities smart and sustainable. But some cities have been working on these issues for years, even decades. Two pioneers, in different ways, are Freiburg in Germany and Glasgow in Scotland. Both have gleaned valuable lessons from their experience of transformation.

In this episode, Urban Matters host Tom Miles talks to Martin Horn, the Mayor of Freiburg, and Brian Evans, the City Urbanist of Glasgow and Head of Urbanism at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, to hear directly from these two pioneering cities.

Episode 10  Climate Action in Cities

What challenges do cities face as they try to square up to the daunting problem of climate change? What obstacles stand in their way, and what can they do to overcome them? How do cities learn from one another? What can they learn from the pandemic?

In this episode, Urban Matters host Tom Miles speaks with Lisa Helps, the Mayor of Victoria in Canada, and Soraya Axelsson, head of the H22 Initiative in Helsingborg, Sweden.