Learn how to learn with Quito

Quito appreciates learning from other cities.

Last October, they demonstrated their spirit of sharing and collaboration during the EcoMobility Days – held during the Habitat III conference – where they presented their transportation plans to cities and transport enthusiasts from all over the world to collect ideas for more integrated transportation.

Once again, at Resilient Cities 2017, they opened their plans to the public and shared some of the tools they are working with to improve resilience in the city.

As in October, during the EcoMobility Days, the city had prepared a well-organized interactive session to gather ideas they could bring back home and implement.

They first introduced the local situation. Quito is a growing city which is suffering from urban sprawl. It has a young, creative and energetic population which offers great potential in terms of entrepreneurship. But it also suffers from a high level of inequality. Many children suffer from food insecurity, and there is a lack of social cohesion. The infrastructure and basic services offered are good quality but the city wants to make sure all residents have access.

They presented clear objectives they have already established, such as improving transport infrastructure, reducing their CO2 emissions, establishing a new urban paradigm to end urban sprawl, offering better housing options, creating new opportunities for economic development, ensuring access to affordable and healthy food options and improving social inclusion.

They then introduced AGRUPAR, a program they currently use to achieve some of their resilience objectives. AGRUPAR started in 2002 with the support of UN-Habitat and has since then been fully integrated by the Ecuadorian capital. AGRUPAR trains people – in particular women, elderly, children, vulnerable populations and minorities – in organic urban agriculture, and helps connect them to customers. The program is a great success. In fact, the municipality lacks capacity to answer the demand from residents to be trained. To this day, AGRUPAR has trained close to 20,000 people and had over 400,000 beneficiaries.

But Quito sees far greater potential in food and does not want to stop there. This is where they turn to external contributors for smart ideas.

They turned to the audience with key questions: How do cities incorporate urban agriculture into their territorial planning strategies? What financing mechanisms exist for urban agriculture in the framework of increasing food resilience in cities? How does urban agriculture interact with the business sector and how are strategies made operative?

They sat participants in small groups around tables and asked them to share ideas and examples that might answer these questions.

The room was full with city representatives, city-region food systems experts, members of food networks and organizations – such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – and students. All had come to hear about their experience with urban agriculture, but Quito did not let them leave without harnessing their expertise!

Opening up and sharing their challenges paid off, after short but passionate discussions around the tables, participants had collected a number of great ideas and examples for Quito. Many encouraged the city to look at food in a more holistic way, allowing other departments to bring new dimensions and also funding to their projects. Some encouragement also fell along dimensions of health, social inclusion, economic development and climate change mitigation. Others suggested the city looks further into circular economy, or how information and communication technology could help build momentum and political interest around key issues.

The exercise proved very successful and the city demonstrated once again how a humble, open attitude is the best way to learn, and perhaps the key to resilience.

This blog post is based on discussions from the Resilient Cities 2017 session “Resilient City: Quito, Ecuador”.