Picturing Sustainable and Just Urban Futures: Winners of the Transformative Urban Coalitions 2023 Photo Contest
Hanoi, Vietnam. Submission titled, “The city of green trees.” Photo: Thong Nguyen

With over half of the world’s population living in cities, urban spaces not only house us but offer opportunities for collective work and learning while serving as sources of creativity, inspiration and hope. Nevertheless, cities also account for a staggering 75% of global carbon emissions. A socially just transformation across multiple urban systems is necessary to build a zero-emission world.

Building compelling and inspiring narratives can help people understand these transformations and contribute to more ambitious climate action. And co-creation of knowledge with communities and the facilitation of shared learning further supports a just transition.

For the Transformative Urban Coalitions photo contest, “Co-Creating the Cities We Deserve,” the project team asked residents from cities across the globe to showcase activities contributing to more inclusive and sustainable cities.  Financed by the International Climate Initiative, Transformative Urban Coalitions supports cities to find joint solutions to become more green, inclusive and sustainable. The project’s five Urban Labs in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina bring together communities to address local needs in collaboration with one another and ultimately shift cities towards zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In total, we received 534 stunning photos and related stories submitted by talented individuals aged 16 to 72 years old, capturing the essence of cities from 48 different countries. The three winning photos and a few dozen top submissions were displayed at an exhibition at the UNFCCC Capacity-Building Hub at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

From planting mangroves that protect coastal communities in Indonesia, to cleaning the Yamuna River that flows behind the Taj Mahal in India, to planting community gardens and building open community spaces, the photos illustrate a diverse view of what a sustainable city looks like and how we can work together to learn, inspire and co-create a more inclusive future for all.

The jury judged submissions on originality, creativity, photographic quality and relevance to the theme.

1st Place Winner: Antipolo, The Philippines, by Nikki Sandino Victoriano

Submission titled, “For the future.” Photo: Nikki Sandino Victoriano

In Nikki Sandino Victoriano’s first place photo, a father imparts the invaluable lesson of environmental stewardship to his young daughter as the expanse of Antipolo spreads out behind them. Teaching how to balance the built and natural environments helps sow the seeds of a greener tomorrow.

2nd Place Winner: Chittagong, Bangladesh, by Rayhan Ahmed

Submission titled, “Searching for essential survival items in the garbage dump beside the green land.”  Photo: Rayhan Ahmed

Rayhan Ahmed’s photo shows the life of a waste-picker dwelling in one of Chittagong’s informal settlements. The contrast between the garbage pile and the agricultural field so close by tells a complex story in which both serve as livelihood resources. Sustainable and inclusive urban development can help improve the lives of the most vulnerable to create a more just society for all.

3rd Place Winner: Accra, Ghana, by Stephen Ofori Amo

Submission titled, “A unified restoration: Ghana’s collective efforts towards a greener future.” Photo: Stephen Ofori Amo

In Stephen Ofori Amo’s submission from Ghana, different members of society cradle saplings from a “tro tro,” or minibus. Such “paratransit” operators provide the bulk of public transport services in Ghanian cities. His photo shows how the combined efforts of improved public transport and collaborative action contribute to a more sustainable and greener urban landscape. 

COP28 attendees peruse an exhibition displaying photos from the “Co-Creating the Cities We Deserve” contest. Photo: UNU-EHS

“The 500+ photos we received prove there is a lot of creativity, passion and commitment to make cities around the globe better places,” said Simone Sandholz, Head of Urban Futures and Sustainability Transformation at UNU-EHS.

A version of this article originally appeared on International-Climate-Initiatives.com.

Arianna Flores-Corral is Communications Analyst for UNU-EHS.

Schuyler Null is Senior Communications Manager for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Taylor Symes is Communications Associate for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Right Menu Icon