Described as “an astonishing inspiration for leaders around the world for how to mobilise people, create change in your local community and see the international effects,” PhD alumnus and affiliated researcher Dr. Carlos Cadena Gaitan has won the 2015 Future Sustainability Leader award.
“This year’s… campaign searched for nominations for the best and brightest future leaders in sustainability that are mobilising for change and making us all seize new opportunities,” said Sustainia think tank, which made the award.
Below is a video and part transcript [>5:45] of a TEDx talk by Dr. Cadena Gaitan, delivered while studying in 2013. Here he sets the scene on environmental sustainability, political inertia and urban activism — and calls on ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
“I am a researcher at a globally renowned university right here in Maastricht. I believe in data. But I do know that theories and regressions will not save the world. It is people like you and me who have to do something… This is what we’re doing in Colombia. We are combining academic evidence with urban activism and we’re trying to make it appealing…
“What is urban activism..? Well, it’s attacks, it’s artistic attacks, creative attacks, pre-emptive attacks… it gives a whole new idea to this concept of pre-emptive attack… Is it dangerous? Well, there’s nothing more dangerous than somebody who actually wants to make the world a better place. That’s another urban artist, Banksy, who said it before.
“So we’re doing this. We are building symbolic cycle lanes all over the country, where before politicians only planned our cities to become addicted to your majesty, the car. We are also giving people the chance, empowering them, showing them how to build their own pedestrian pathways, where before streets were only for your majesty, the car. It’s symbolic. It’s only artistic… It’s not our duty, right?
“Well, I want to warn you about something. This September 22nd  you will see something major about this. We are going to five continents. We are doing this simultaneously: the largest tactical urbanism event you have ever seen. Is it crazy? Well, this is the message that I want to leave with you today. There is nothing more important than creativity… every great idea must begin and go through a phase during which it is considered to be absolute craziness.
“Academic evidence is also important. We are doing informal ‘Beer Mondays’ with experts so that we can pre-digest and digest hard numbers better. We are also doing applications via social media so that we can promote better urban habits. We are also getting people, popular social figures as role models, getting them on electric bicycles to tweet and facebook about what they are doing with powerful messages to their followers…
“This is Colombia, right there next to the Caribbean, and we have accomplished at least 50,000 citizens to follow our official proposals to politicians. One quarter of local governments have accepted and finalised our interventions, and more importantly, we have proved that ordinary people can do extraordinary things for their cities. So I hope you give yourself a chance to do something extraordinary for your city as well.”
Dr. Cadena Gaitan’s PhD thesis on “Green Politics in Latin American Cities: Sustainable Transport Agendas” is embedded below, as well as an archive video on work carried out with UN-Habitat.
GREEN POLITICS PHD THESIS
I’M A CITY CHANGER VIDEO