Can the cities in the developing world go beyond their local challenges, embrace the new mindset and embark on new economic theories of creating “thriving cities for all”?The short answer is Yes! Yerevan, capital city of Armenia in cooperation with UNDP Armenia country office, and supported by (DEAL (Doughnut Economics Action Lab) and Circle Economy) embarked on this challenging journey of “meeting the Doughnut”, being one of the pioneers, in fact, the first city in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) world, to pilot the downscaling of the Doughnut economics model on the city level.
The challenges of Yerevan
Yerevan is a vibrant city, where most of the economic activity of the country is taking place, it is overpopulated with stuffed transportation means, cars standing in traffic jams, particularly in the central district of the city. Its air is dry, full of high pollution levels because of the cars, factory emissions and lots of construction that is going on in the city. The city has green public spaces, but they are not enough and mostly centralized.
Just recently, the city passed across the compound crisis ( Covid-19 and armed conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh), with the follow-up earthquake of high magnitude that shook not only the ground but the citizens and public officials of the city who saw the need for the disruptive action.
It was there where the UNDP Armenia Innovation team engaged with the Municipality counterparts and introduced the Doughnut Economics model. The first question that came from the public officials was;
“How can we think of global action when we have so many local problems to solve”?
That was the first biggest challenge for the UNDP Armenia Innovation team to communicate to the city which experienced pandemic and continues experiencing frozen conflict and COVID-19, how Doughnut economics mindset of local-global synergies in both social and ecological lenses are indirectly related to the local problems the city is having now, how Doughnut mindset strives to prevent future crises and ensure sustainable development for all.
It was clear that more preparatory work is needed to prepare policy makers in developing countries i) to understand the model ii) to embrace the model.
Developing a City Portrait and a ‘City Selfie’
· An initial desktop-based draft of the 4-lenses of City Portrait was developed by the UNDP Armenia Innovation team in cooperation with Yerevan Municipality counterparts and through consultations with Circle Economy, based on the 5-year strategic development plan (2019-2023) of Yerevan. While developing the draft portrait, it turned out that the strategic development plan of the city does not reflect and address the current reality, the challenges that popped up during recent years; war, pandemic and all the accompanying complications. Therefore, a new course of action was designed i) to learn from citizens of “What thriving Yerevan means for them”, then based on the findings ii) co-design the City Targets for Yerevan City Portrait.
· So, a team of researchers embarked on producing a ‘City Selfie’ - research with mixed methodology (quantitative, qualitative) was conducted with a representative sample of the citizens. Qualitative data was collected through organization of focus group discussions across the themes of 4 lenses of the Portrait. Based on the findings of the qualitative analysis, the survey was conducted among the citizens with the stratified sampling method. The “City Selfie” was born.
· This was then built on through workshops with city stakeholders from different departments (Healthcare, Education, Culture, Tourism, Nature Protection, Architecture & Urban development, Youth & Sports and other relevant departments), which were bringing to the table their knowledge of different policies, datasets and targets that the Municipality has. The workshop was organized offline with up to 40 people participating from Yerevan Municipality, UNDP Armenia and an adjacent expert groups. Design thinking methodology was applied in design and implementation of the workshop which triggered open dialogue and discussion between different stakeholders and through innovative tools and techniques brought the discussion into forming Yerevan City Portrait. The Workshop materials and guide was also reviewed by experts of Circle Economy.
· During the process data challenges were faced both for designing local lenses and global ones. In case of local lenses there was available data at either country or city level but the challenges were mainly related to the quality of data (problems with timeliness, consistency, continuity, validity); in case of global lenses, lots of data is not available for Armenia on planetary boundaries, especially for forming global-ecological lense. So, Yerevan City Portrait has some missing or incomparable data on all of its lenses.
· Nevertheless, these data challenges are not viewed as something negative and unsolvable but rather something to give a thought to, an adversity to be turned into opportunity; to move on with identification of further data challenges and providing innovative solutions in achieving data-driven city development.
Yerevan starts writing its master plan, (long-term city strategic development plan that also includes spatial planning of the city) taking Yerevan City Portrait as an anchor point with the vision of becoming a thriving ‘City for all” that recognizes global responsibility when taking local action.
Lesson learned #1: DO MORE PREPARATORY WORK
The work between UNDP, City of Yerevan and Circle Economy continued with the cycle of meetups and consultations and the policy makers continuously started to see the “benefits” of the model; how it raises the right questions and triggers to look for answers. The transformation has just begun…
Lesson Learned #2: Building in-house capacity in the municipalities may be needed
UNDP Armenia, in the framework of the project, organized co-creation workshops with the Municipality counterparts. Design thinking methodology was applied to the process to ensure the technical knowledge is accompanied with visioning and abductive thinking. At the same time to ensure the participatory approach, research methodology was designed based on Doughnut methods to form “City Selfie”; to collect citizen’s vision of what “Thriving Yerevan means for them” across local and global lenses.
Lesson Learned #3: To ensure participatory approach different innovative methods need to be applied
As a result, the Yerevan City Portrait was co-created inspired by “City selfie” that SERVES AS A GUIDE for writing the Master Plan for Yerevan.
Yerevan started to “own” the model…