F&ES Treks to Quito, Ecuador
During the October fall break, a group of roughly 30 students from three Yale graduate schools (FES, School of Management, and Public Health) traveled to Quito, Ecuador. The majority of these students were FES-ers, who 1) attended the UN Habitat III conference as accredited stakeholders and 2) either presented research related to urban resilience or participated in a consultancy project.
The UN Habitat III conference was a unique occurrence. It is an event that only happens every 20 years, where national and subnational governments gather to discuss urban development. In this past Habitat, the New Urban Agenda was adopted. This is a guidance document that will dictate how urbanization will occur worldwide, and encompasses many areas including but not limited to social inclusion, ending poverty, environmentally sustainable development, and so on.
A group of students, including myself, consulted on a set of urban resiliency projects for Quito’s Chief Resiliency Officer. We did this through the Global Network for Advanced Management, or GNAM. It is a group of business schools all over the world (include Yale School of Management) who collaborate and host exchanges for its students throughout the year to build networks across cultures and universities. Yale FES and School of Public Health were invited to be part of this network in order to provide our expertise in our respective fields. Before traveling, we spent half a semester preparing for our projects: listening to expert guest speakers from Quito, researching Quito’s urban resilience values, and establishing a focus for our recommendations for each project.
The projects covered 4 different topics: the Quito Cables, a cable car infrastructure project, Choco Andino, a rich biodiversity region outside of Quito, Calderon Metropolitan Park, a large tract of land within the city, and revival of the historical city center. Each project was assigned to 2 teams, comprised of a mix of business, forestry, architecture, and public health graduate students from 5 other universities in Canada, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico.
My team looked at the Quito Cables, a controversial cable car project that aimed to connect the lower income populations living in the outskirts of the city (in the mountains) down to the urban core in the valley. This type of “teleferico” system has been implemented in many other Latin American countries, such as in Caracas, Venezuela or Medellin, Bolivia. It is a method to reduce congestion from cars (a huge problem in Quito) and provide a more environmentally friendly way for transport.
A site where a cable car station would be constructed
Our team conducted on-site interviews with members of the community and local planners. Despite spending only a couple of days gathering information, we quickly found there was a communication gap between the mayoral office and the residents of the areas that would be affected by cable car construction. In light of this, we developed a set of recommendations to the Chief Resilience Officer within 4 days. The Chief Resilience Officer is an innovative position within 100 cities around the world where they take lead responsibility on resiliency efforts. This position is under the Rockefeller Foundation, where they are assisting with improving resiliency in cities (known as the 100 Resilient Cities Initiative).
In our final presentation, we presented the following recommendations: 1) gather qualitative and quantitative information regarding the cable car project’s feasibility and community feedback, 2) identify human resources within and outside the mayor’s office to interface with the local population, and 3) ensure a consistent, transparent relationship between the mayor’s office and the citizens. It was well-received by our client and we hope these measures will be implemented in the immediate future.
Our group presenting on the Quito Cables at a local Quito university, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
While working on this project, we had time to attend sessions at the UN conference, explore outside the city, eat local and delicious food, and even meet up with a couple of FES alumna working in the Quito area. Since it was my first time in Latin America, I took in all the sights, smells, and sounds. It was a great opportunity for me to learn and practice Spanish and to experience some of the famous Latin culture many of my FES peers bring from their home countries.
Completing these projects with time constraints and limited information was not easy. Working in virtual, cross-cultural teams was a difficult task but one that is becoming more prevalent in both academic and professional worlds. I really appreciated learning these lessons, and I realize this experience was definitely a privilege: I got to see a beautiful part of the world while working on real, tangible projects that will have an impact on others. I will definitely treasure this trip for many years to come and thank the people at FES and GNAM for making it possible.
All the students from across the 4 projects (Credit: Matt O’Rourke)
Here are some other photos from the trip: