Get to Know Cities Alliance: IHS of Erasmus University, Rotterdam

Recently, Cities Alliance celebrated a milestone event when the Netherlands-based International Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) of Erasmus University, Rotterdam became the first knowledge institution to join the partnership.
Get to Know Cities Alliance: IHS of Erasmus University, Rotterdam

This article is the part of a series of features introducing new members of the Cities Alliance.

Training a new generation of urban professionals, local authorities, and their partners by combining academics with fieldwork. 


[15 March  2016] – Recently, Cities Alliance celebrated a milestone event when the Netherlands-based International Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) of Erasmus University, Rotterdam (EUR) became the first knowledge institution to join the partnership. 

IHS is an international centre of excellence of the School of Economics and the Faculty of Social Sciences of EUR. It offers postgraduate education, training, and applied research in the field of urban management, housing and urban planning. 

IHS works globally, providing advisory services to local and national governments, non-governmental and civil society organisations, as well as academic and training institutions. It brings to the Cities Alliance partnership three decades of experience in policy-level support and institutional development, on-the-job training for government professionals, aid in the development of citywide strategic planning and participatory processes, development of methodologies and frameworks, critical research, and programme evaluation. 

The institute became interested in formally joining Cities Alliance after recent changes to the partnership’s governance structure opened up membership to new constituencies, including universities, research centres and knowledge networks. 

By becoming a member, IHS is seeking to engage in and contribute to the global debate on cities and improve the type and impact of services it provides by working in partnership with other Cities Alliance members. 

IHS is also interested in bringing its perspective on capacity building – one of the core components of its work – and to further the discussion on the most effective approaches to building capacities to make cities work. In addition, IHS views the partnership as an opportunity to learn more from clients about what works and what doesn’t to improve its services. 

“A membership to the Cities Alliance provides a platform and access to networks for discussion with members from different groups, each with different interests and perspectives. IHS sees this as ‘a healthy’ approach; we all bring our specialisations to the table and we foresee that a combined effort can achieve more impact,” said Carley Pennink, Head of International Projects for IHS. 


Expertise in knowledge and training 

IHS’ expertise in knowledge transfer will be an excellent resource for Cities Alliance members. Its advisory services are always linked with knowledge transfer to ensure that its clients have the knowledge needed to sustain interventions. As such, the institute has considerable experience in connecting international and local knowledge, and working with partners to find innovative solutions that are relevant to local contexts – priority areas for Cities Alliance members. 

IHS is also a leader in the development of urban training and research institutions. It was instrumental in establishing the graduate-level Urban Management Course at the Ethiopian Civil Service University and has trained hundreds of urban professionals in Ethiopia and Ghana. 

In addition to assisting organisations in developing the capacity to provide training to local governments and their partners, IHS also supports the set up and management of these institutions by advising on approaches to organisational change. 

In all cases, IHS believes strongly in linking theory and practice. Staff members spend a substantial amount of time in the field to obtain first-hand knowledge of the contexts of the various countries in which they work, and provide support, training and services that are relevant for their clients and course participants. 

IHS has long engaged with Cities Alliance members, including the World Bank, UN-Habitat, UNDP, Sida, the European Union, AfD, Ethiopia, and GIZ. Last year, it collaborated with members of a Cities Alliance Joint Work Programme on cities and climate change to produce the publication Integrating Climate Change into City Development Strategies. And in June 2015, IHS was involved in the Global Knowledge Sharing Workshop in Brussels, the first knowledge sharing event to be held as part of our Future Cities Africa programme.

IHS’ View: Sustainability as Controversial and Inspiring

One of the great strengths of the Cities Alliance partnership is the diversity of its members, each one with a different perspective. We asked IHS to share how it views sustainable cities:

IHS believes that sustainability is not an end in itself, but a complex process that is both controversial and a limitless source of inspiration for city planning. The controversial part has to do with three factors:

1. Sustainability led to the belief that we can achieve a “perfect equilibrium” of environmental, social and economic well-being, while in fact socio-ecological and urban systems fall in and out of regeneration processes.  

2. The policy legacy of international conventions such as the Rio Summit was largely constrained by the acceptance of the “substitutability of environmental for economic value” and by strong industry lobby. An exclusive interest in maximising economic value has proved time and again to be counterproductive for the economy itself; there can be no economic efficiency with social marginalisation and inequity.

3. Certain factors within sustainable development have negatively affected how it is viewed, including narrow approaches to ecology and environment that failed to capture the overlaps with social dynamics. 

At the same time, we believe sustainability can be inspiring. It now encompasses many more interesting nuances, such as resilience and adaptability, which are allowing for a greater attention to planning increasingly complex, populated and at times unpredictable urban environments. Cities need to be left to imagine what sustainability means for them, with a strong monitoring and evaluation role played by civil society and academic institutions, as they seek to re-align environmental and social well-being to economic development in times of urban regeneration and crisis.



IHS’ mission is to develop human and institutional capacities to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life in cities.     


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