Celebrating 60 years of IHS

This year marks the 60th anniversary of IHS, the Institute for housing and urban development studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. To celebrate this milestone IHS organised the ‘Empowering Cities and Citizens’ conference, which took place on November 6-7 in Rotterdam.

60 years of making cities work and the event to celebrate it all

This event was part of the 105-year anniversary of Erasmus University Rotterdam, and marked the first year of activity for the "Vital Cities and Citizens" (VCC) Erasmus initiative. The conference was organized in collaboration with Robbert Nesselaar, Founder and Managing Director of Citymar Consultancy, with the support of Erasmus Trustfonds, and thanks to the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.

Over 350 participants and 50 speakers from academia, local governments and other institutions got together to discuss how cities and communities learn and co-create knowledge, in order to meet current needs in cities and also how their solutions might support the implementation of the SDGs.

The first day of the conference was held in the 100-year old reconverted grain silo - Maassilo, Rotterdam and featured a full-day programme of keynote speeches, breakout sessions and panel discussions. The three keynote speeches were given. Prof. Nina Glick-Schiller (Emeritus Professor at Manchester University; Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology) talked about how migrants are true city-makers, Prof. Liesbet van Zoonen (Professor of Sociology and Dean of the Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Humanities) addressed the topic of citizens and smart cities, while Egbert Fransen (Director of Pakhuis de Zwijger) talked about the WeMakeThe.City festival, which aims to release the full potential cities by fostering meaningful connections between people and organisations.

The conference also encompassed 25 engaging breakout sessions, which revolved around three main tracks: people, places and know-how. Some of the topics of the breakout sessions were urban heritage, sustainability, migration and diversity, inequality, urban identity and many more. The speakers were as diverse as the topics, just as much as the 350 participants, who came from all over the world and from various fields.
 Besides the breakout sessions and keynote speeches, two panel discussions took place on the topics of ‘Solving Wicked Urban Problems’ and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals.

Acknowledging outstanding urban professionals

The end of the day was marked by the IHS Alumni International Urban Professional and Youth Awards, which recognize outstanding city changers worldwide for their efforts to improve the lives of cities and citizens. This year’s winner of the Urban Professional Award is Enkhbayar Tsedendorj, from Mongolia, with the runner ups Jeniffer Semakula Musisi from Uganda and Yahia Shawkat from Egypt. The Winner of the Youth Urban Professional Award is the Ukranian organization Urban Curators, while the runner up is Henry Takunda Gurajena, from Zimbabwe.

The second half of the conference took place at IHS and explored the following question: ‘How can Erasmus University Rotterdam – and in general higher educational institutions – contribute to realizing the SDGs?’  Also, the winners and runners-ups of the IHS Alumni International Urban Professional and Youth Awards pitched the themes they found most pressing to tackle in the next years.

Looking back

Looking back, we are glad to have had this chance to connect with like-minded urban professionals from such diverse backgrounds. We feel enriched by our different experiences, insights and possibility to explore different angles of similar urban issues we all encounter in one way or another in our work. We hope this conference can serve as a base for building stronger connections in the future and that it has stimulated participants to look beyond their work area and absorb lessons from various adjacent fields.