Meet Jia Cong, Singaporean and Urban Design Officer and Planner in the field of sustainable planning and resettlement at the UN-HABITAT Headquarters, Urban Planning and Design Branch in Nairobi, Kenya. Check out her #ClimateActionSG story here!
Hi – I’m Jia Cong, an Urban Design Officer in UN-HABITAT, working in the field of migration, sustainable planning, participatory urban design and analyses. I am currently based in Nairobi, Kenya, at the Headquarters for UN-HABITAT. Alumni of the Masters of Architecture Program at the National University of Singapore’s School of Design and Environment, my previous work experiences on sustainable urban planning and design have been in Singapore, Korea, and Kenya and in scoping missions to Cambodia, Thailand and West Kalimantan. I also act as a contributor to the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY), carrying out discussions for Habitat III, and the New Urban Agenda.
I first learnt about the work of UN-HABITAT through international news bulletins and subscribing to their project feeds on the Internet. While in University, I was particularly drawn to the nature of projects many programs executed and the extent of development advice they provided to member states on policy recommendations. With an interest in policy writing, design and planning, bridging the humanitarian-development nexus, and a strong sense of advocacy, I explored opportunities of collaborative projects and eventually employment.
I have been working at the Nairobi, Kenya Headquarters for a year as of January 2018. The most rewarding aspect of working in an international office with UN-HABITAT has been the range of ideation and actualization of projects the opportunity provides. Conversations on potential collaborations with countries, cities, towns and communities on existing world issues allows one to better observe the phenomenon of globalization in specific contexts. Currently, we have one other colleague who is also Singaporean, and we work together in the same project team. Our interactions and easy conversations in “Singlish” warm me and remind me greatly of home.
The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. My work in urban planning and design in UN-Habitat has been largely focused on sustainable integrated planning developments, adapting sustainable infrastructure solutions to long-term, durable settlements – with a focus on renewable energies, low-carbon production and sustainable mobility frameworks. Right now, I contribute primarily towards the Kalobeyei New Settlement project, 1500 hectares of land allocated by the Turkana County Government of Kenya to host 60,000 refugees and host community members. The advisory spatial plan hopes to achieve status as a sustainable pilot settlement utilizing numerous incremental development strategies. Long-term durability of a settlement for refugees requires adequate and well sought after planning mechanisms, much unlike the temporary nature of camps before.
Likewise, the cities that exist today play an important role in addressing climate change. Unprecedented rates of population growth contribute to environmental trends in the world (In 1950s, a third of the world’s population lived in cities. In 2000, the population rose by one half, and will continue to grow towards 6 billion come 2050.) As major contributors to climate change, consuming majority of the world’s energy and producing more than 60% of all carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, they encompass the greatest potential to change the state of the world. The nature of cities, which are closely affected by their economic and social processes, also directly affect the level of environmental effects – pollution, waste management, biodiversity loss, agriculture, urban health etc.
At the same time, cities and towns are heavily vulnerable to climate change. Hundreds of millions of people in urban areas globally will be affected by the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, increased rainfall and flooding, frequent weather and extreme temperature changes.
Sustainable urbanization and management of cities is fundamentally a global challenge. Urban planning facilitates well-managed governance structures, where cities can be built as places of innovation to diminish the causes of climate change – mitigation, and effectively protect themselves from impacts – adaptation. At national, regional and local levels, UN-HABITAT’s programs are designed to help policy makers and local communities raise awareness and understand urban issues in human settlements and to build the capacities needed to address them with lasting, environmentally sensitive solutions and strategies.
It is encouraging and inspiring to learn of 2018 being the Year of Climate Action for Singapore.
As a deeply globalized small-city island state, with high living standards and robust economic growth, Singapore’s planning examples (infrastructure, housing, public space, urban transport and resource management systems) are well sought after internationally.
The focus on climate action is indeed timely as it seeks to address potential extreme weather management, volatile global resource prices, and potential disruptions to growth. Our “Clean and Green” motto encompasses the goals of stabilizing long-term emissions which prove challenging – despite generating a majority of electricity from natural gas and non-fossil fuels, the small land size (and lack of geothermal resources) limits the potential to tap on renewable energy alternatives. R&D investments in green urbanization schemes through policy frameworks on low-carbon technologies will be beneficial in the long run.
If I were to give advice to young individuals seeking careers in sustainability fields – perhaps the greatest advice I am also learning is to practice what you preach/teach. As much as climate action plans can be helpful, citizens will need to make greater efforts to encourage one another develop lasting habits that build climate-friendly cultures. For instance, in Japan and Germany, it has been embedded into the national consciousness to be mindful of conservation, consumption and disposal. It should be encouraging to know how these practices seem small and unnoticeable but are of much larger impacts – be it consuming less meat in your diet, choosing to take public transport, cycling or walking more, reducing the total consumption of one-time plastic (i.e. replacing plastic bags with cloth bags), growing more plants, recycling old items, reducing your total consumption footprint etc. When you practice what you speak, you embody the values you encourage. Not only can this ripple on as inspiration to others and be encouraging to your career goals, perhaps that is what anyone who cares about the global state of the world can aspire to do.
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