As a kind of sub-national actors, cities and local governments are playing an increasingly important role on the international stage. When we talk about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, cities are an important carrier to achieve all the goals, no matter in poverty reduction, healthy living, gender equality or environmental protection.
Since 2012, the United Cities and Local Governments, the World Association of the Major Metropolises and Guangzhou municipal government co-created the Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation (the Guangzhou Award), which aims to recognize innovation in improving social, economic and environmental sustainability in cities and regions and to advance the prosperity and quality of life of their citizens. Under the background of a rapidly changing world in the 21st century, the Guangzhou Award contributes to the progress of SDGs by providing a platform for diverse cities to share and spread their achievements, and to encourage more cities for a better governance in this world.
A Short Introduction of the Guangzhou Award
The Guangzhou Award selects project, measure or policy that produces practical effect or substantial influence, boasting originality, exemplariness and transferability. From 2012 to 2018, four cycles of the Guangzhou Award have been held, and each cycle attracted nearly 200 cities from more than 50 countries to participate in the selection, making the award a treasure trove of over 1,000 initiatives which cover a wide range of fields. It particularly underlines localities’ innovative and inclusive approaches as framed by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement, and the New Urban Agenda. In 2020, UN-HABITAT included initiatives of the Guangzhou Award into Urban Best Practices Database. Therefore, through studying the cases provides by the Guangzhou Award, people can learn what measures have cities taken to realize the SDGs by improving infrastructure and public services, participatory planning and good governance, technology, social inclusion, gender equality and etc.
Each cycle of the Guangzhou Award selects 15 shortlisted cities and 5 final winning cities. The previous winners of the Guangzhou Award are as follows:
1. Winners of the 1st Guangzhou Award (2012):
- Kocaeli (Turkey): Prepare Before It's Too Late: Learn To Live With Earthquake
- Lilongwe (Malawi): Cities Mentorship Program
- Seoul (South Korea): Healthy Seoul Free from Internet Addiction of Children and Adolescents
- Vancouver (Canada): Visionary Vancouver: Creating a Welcoming and Sustainable Place for All
- Vienna (Austria): Start Wien: Help Migrants Settle In and Facilitate Their Integration In Vienna
2. Winners of the 2nd Guangzhou Award (2014):
- Antioquia (Colombia): Educational Parks for Youth
- Bristol (United Kingdom): Smart City
- Christchurch (New Zealand): Our Ever Evolving City
- Dakar (Senegal): Municipal Finance Program
- Hangzhou (China): Urban Public Bicycle Sharing Program
3. Winners of the 3rd Guangzhou Award (2016):
- Boston (United States): Youth Lead the Change: Youth Participatory Budgeting
- Copenhagen (Denmark): Climate Resilient Neighborhood
- Qalyubeya (Egypt): Integrated Community Based Solid Waste Management
- La Paz (Bolivia): Zebras: A Citizen Culture Project
- Songpa (South Korea): Songpa Solar Nanum (Sharing) Power Plant
4. Winners of the 4th Guangzhou Award (2018):
- Wuhan (China): The "Rebirth" of Urban Waste Dump – Ecological Restoration Bridging the Social Gaps
- Milan (Italy): Milan Food Policy: An Innovative Framework for Making Urban Food System More Sustainable, Inclusive
- Guadalajara (Mexico): Citizen-Led Metropolitan Coordination of Guadalajara
- Mezitli (Turkey): Mezitli Women Producers Market
- New York City (United States): Global Vision I Urban Action: New York City’s Voluntary Local Review (VLR) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Sometimes special awards were also announced, such as Surabaya won “Online Popular City” in 2018, Bristol won the “Media Focused City” and Antioquia won the “Public Recommended City” in 2014.
A Case Study: The Rebirth of Urban Waste Dump (Wuhan, China)
All the winning cities selected in the previous Guangzhou Awards all represent the best practices of cities in achieving SDGs, showing great value for peer cities to follow and learn. Here taking a Chinese city, Wuhan, a winner of the 4th cycle as an example:
Abandoned Jinkou Landfill, once the largest landfill in Wuhan, and malfunctioned Zhanggong Dyke were two notorious pollution sources in the city of Wuhan. Their very existence not only tainted the city’s appearance but also wreaked havoc on the local environment. To make a difference, the city undertook a renovation project covering an area of 213 hectare: At the beginning, the project was mainly to create a suitable site for the China International Garden Expo from 2015 to 2016. Now the project has extended beyond everyone’s expectation: The garbage dump has become one of Wuhan’s most charming recreational parks. The dyke also has become an urban forest park, a beloved place for pedestrians and cyclist.
This initiative encompasses SDG 6(Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 9(Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG 10(Reduced Inequalities) and SDG 11(Sustainable cities and communities). The initiative completely changed 14 adjacent communities and the lives of 400,000 Wuhan people, which not only won the 4th Guangzhou Award, but also the C40 Cities Award, China Habitat Environment Example Prize in 2015, China Humanitarian Example Prize in 2016, etc.
The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Guangzhou Award
The year 2020 should have marked the 5th cycle of the Guangzhou Award. But Unfortunately, this year saw the whole world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and inevitably led to the delay of the Award’s selection progress. On February 3, 2021, 15 shortlisted cities have just been announced. It is worth noting that the pandemic has also exposed and highlighted a lot of problems for cities in achieving the SDGs, especially Goal 3(Good Health and Wellbeing), Goal 8(Decent Work and Economic Growth), Goal 10(Reduced Inequalities) and Goal 11(Sustainable cities and communities). Therefore, cities and regions are most welcome to share their initiatives in responding to the pandemic urban innovation initiatives during this year’s selection, from emergency response and mitigation to economic or social recovery.
From its establishment in 2012 to its fifth cycle, the Guangzhou Award has been developing all the way in the direction of urban and regional innovation. But its aim was not only about encouraging innovation in technology and ideas, but more importantly encouraging transnational cooperation as well. Today, this world is still under the shadow of the epidemic, making solidarity and cooperation the most eﬀective weapons. In the future, the Guangzhou Award will not only provide a reference for local governments to improve their emergency response capabilities, but also open a window for countries to create cooperation and dialogue, learn from each other's experiences, and work together to achieve SDGs.