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What do public hospitals in St. Andrew, Jamaica; global warming in Dhaka, Bangladesh; access to land for housing in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and the cartoneros [scavengers] in Argentina have in common?

First of all, they all strive to inhabit a physical space and to be recognized in the cities of the third millennium; and secondly they all shared their experiences and knowledge in the ISSC’s World Social Science Fellows programme Sustainable Urbanization III seminar that took place on September 2015 in Durban, South Africa.

For the seminar, twenty young professionals from all over the world and different disciplines were called to share our studies on the current situation of some cities, urban governance, extreme poverty, and environmental sustainability. Researchers from India, South Africa, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, USA, England, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, the Philippines, China, Ghana, and Argentina presented their studies in six thematic sessions: climate change, governance and justice, use of soil, urban development, poverty and environmental sustainability.

What I found most surprising at first was the resemblance between the challenges faced by medium-sized cities in all of those countries, despite their geographical, economic and cultural diversities. All those cities have serious environmental problems derived from global warming and pollution; they all face typical economic restructuring as part of a transition to production models that demand less labour. Besides, all those places look for creative ways of including growing portions of marginalized people – whether migrants, poor or unemployed people, or ethnic or religious minorities – to deal with common problems. The challenges are similar and different at the same time, because the solutions change according to the political, economic and cultural situations of the cities and the countries they belong to.

Another aspect that attracted my attention was the strength of the South-South cooperation in cities and university and research systems. Brazil, South Africa and India have a well-established cooperation system that includes research and development, technology transfer and exchange of management experience. From these recent but solid cooperation traditions emerge concrete urban practices and services in the main cities of those countries. China is also entering the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as it tries to broaden its current profile as an investor in infrastructure and public services to a more multifaceted profile that includes support for social and administrative issues. South-South cooperation is a development horizon to which Argentina can contribute and learn a lot.

Lastly, I was able to further verify the importance and quality of the Argentine system of public universities and the national scientific research system. In other countries it is not common to have a state-supported broad scientific promotion organization; it is even less common that most researchers work on providing satisfactory solutions to the daily problems of neighbours in our towns and cities.

After four days of hard work, the results of our presentations and exchanges were consolidated into one presentation titled “Transforming Global Relations for a Just World” to be given at the World Social Science Forum 2015 held in the same city, Durban.

Both the Forum and the seminar were unique experiences for my professional career in terms of research exchanges, comparison of cases and immersion in different cultures of the world. I returned from the trip with renewed commitment to sharing the new learnings and experiences with the cities of Argentina that need it most.

This blog is excepted from a post at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council – Argentina (CONICET) where it was first published on February 26th 2016.

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