Despairing about climate change?
Education is playing a key role in inspiring cities and communities to create better, more resilient places for our climate future
Sir David Attenborough has described climate change as “the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced”.
Next month, COP26 aims to secure more ambitious action from the nearly 200 countries that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2.0°C – and preferably no more than 1.5°C – above pre-industrial levels.
Our cities are critical to delivering on these targets with the potential to lead the transition to a low carbon and climate resilient economy.
But many are struggling to find ways out of this emergency. And education can take a leading role in shaping more climate-resilient futures, helping our young people to become active citizens when it comes to the places and spaces they live in.
BECOMING AN ACTIVE CITIZEN
Active citizens are those people who can help shape a better society, giving us faith amid the gloom. They take practical actions like embracing activism or designing for nature to support socio-ecological sustainability.
As cities commit to net zero targets, its citizens have led social change movements like Fridays for Future to demand climate justice and equity. They volunteer to host deeper climate conversations inspiring others to create more effective actions about climate change.
These are the kind of actions that better position us to manage the global climate crisis.
And education is helping to create a new generation of active citizens. Key to this is understanding our ‘place’ in our environment – both built and natural.
Placemaking is a process that aims to increase the capability of people to invest a place with meaning for their community. It could involve local people in park revitalisation, main street reactivation, community art, parklets, laneways, night markets and more.
Placemaking as an engagement tool can support climate action by enabling a collective reimagining of city spaces that enable access to quality public places like parks and open spaces. Placemaking as a design thinking exercise can help in re-envisioning a net zero, climate-proofed public place future.
To this end, seven Australian universities and 14 industry partners have come together to create the placemaking education program.
The aim is to build students’ capacity to become active citizens and engage in ways to inspire a space with meaning – and we’ve found that educating this generation of active citizens not only helps shape better places for our cities, but also helps foster a love of place.
And by working closely with local communities, these young people went from being “creative agents” to “facilitators” sharing their skills to the community to help them become more connected and empowered to act – inspiring our new urbanists, architects and planners.
We’ve found that this approach has also activated a sense of responsible citizenship. Both students and communities not only strengthened human-nature links but also used nature’s potential to reduce climate impacts.
A recent example is the Adelaide climate refuge which is a cooling station to be used during hot days of summer for public space users to retreat from the heat stress.
Our program that won a Banksia Foundation award in 2020, provides open-access to an online set of resources, including lectures, videos, readings and practical activities.
This knowledge-sharing website also showcases 26 placemaking sandbox studios. When we say sandbox studios we mean places where groups of students learn by working on real projects and coming up with planning, urban design and landscape solutions.
The students worked closely with local community groups, councils and developers to co-design local solutions for public spaces in more than 20 local Australian communities with the aim of creating sustainable, inclusive, resilient beloved places.
Nature is critical to our survival. So, developing a “nature in place” is a way to amplify nature’s voice, ensuring any placemaking encourages everyone to value biodiversity. We get to know the species living in an area and look at native species as indicators of ecological health.
By incorporating other species, conservation opportunities become as a logical part of placemaking. This can include removing invasive species, providing more green spaces and designing for healthy waterways. The end result is better health and wellbeing for everyone.
Crucially, placemaking means increasing everyone’s understanding of the Indigenous concept of listening and caring for Country. Place stewardship gives all communities a sense of meaning. Indigenous knowledges aid a more holistic understanding on how to cope with environmental variability and develop more responsive coping strategies in the community.
Learning to listen to each other, our communities, nature and Indigenous knowledge of place can and will help us address climate change.
It encourages the next generation to become active citizens, using placemaking as a tool for future potential thinking.
But crucially, it allows our young people to re-imagine a greener economy and dream of better urban futures, driving local action on global challenges.
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