Repower the City: Clean Energy Challenge for five world cities

On March 6th, in Tracy Metz’ live talkshow Stadsleven, What Design Can Do will present the winners of its third worldwide challenge in partnership with IKEA Foundation: the Clean Energy Challenge. This time, designers around the globe have been invited to find answers to local energy issues in five world cities on five continents: Delhi, Nairobi, São Paulo, Mexico City and Amsterdam.

‘The main reason to focus this competition on cities is that we are now in a race against time to reach the climate goals of the Paris agreement,’ says Elizabeth McKeon, Head of Portfolio at IKEA Foundation. ‘The concentration of people in cities makes it possible to be most effective when it comes to reduction of carbon emissions.’

The overall question in the challenge is: How can the predicted population growth in cities be combined with a decrease in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions? The briefs for the five cities each address a specific topic relating to energy use: building (Delhi), food (Nairobi), mobility (São Paulo), waste (Mexico-City) and energy within the historic city landscape (Amsterdam).

‘We hope that by concentrating on these five cities we bring more focus into this challenge,’ WDCD’s creative director Richard van der Laken adds. ‘Climate change is a worldwide problem that demands local solutions. That’s why we asked participants in our previous Climate Action Challenge to specify the area for which their idea was meant. By preselecting five cities we hope to increase the impact and receive proposals that will be concrete and directly applicable.’

Local expertise

The topics addressed in each city have been chosen in close collaboration with local experts, city officials and designers. For São Paulo, for instance where commuters on average lose one month per year sitting in traffic jams, it was obvious that mobility was the topic. And for Delhi, the biggest challenge is sustainable housing for millions of new inhabitants who are expected to settle here in the coming decennia.

‘In general, our aim is to activate and empower the creative community around the world to use their skills for social renewal,’ says Van der Laken. ‘By concentrating on these five cities we have a great opportunity to empower the local design communities. I personally attended the design jam in Nairobi, in which 30 designers participated. They told me afterwards that they were moved by the invitation to collaborate in establishing the brief. That was something entirely new for them.’

Entrepreneurial spirit

It is because of this approach that McKeon warmly welcomes the continuous collaboration with WDCD, which started with the Refugee Challenge in 2015. ‘Design for the many has always been a key value for IKEA. Therefore, at IKEA Foundation we have a keen interest in design thinking as a tool for addressing social issues. I really admire the entrepreneurial spirit at WDCD. It was already rooted in São Paulo, but now Mexico-City, Nairobi and Delhi have been added.’

Mobilizing the creative community to find realistic and concrete answers to the big issues of these days, also serves a bigger objective, Van der Laken adds. ‘For some time now a wave of conservatism is sweeping through the world, which will not quickly disappear. One of the few real counterbalances is creativity. Our challenges show the public that we can actually do something about the issues that concern us all the most. For me that is the power of design.’