Sustainable City 2015

10th International Conference on Urban Regeneration and Sustainability

pcr.jpg1 - 3 September 2015
Medellin, Colombia


Sustainable City 2015

The 10th International Conference on Urban Regeneration and Sustainability took place in Medellin, Colombia, organised by the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) and the Wessex Institute (WIT) of the UK.

The meeting was sponsored by the WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment and the International Journal of Sustainable Development and Planning.

The Conference Chair were Prof Whady Florez-Escobar of UPB and Prof Carlos A Brebbia of WIT.

This meeting followed a series of successful conferences which began in Rio de Janeiro in 2000 and has been held regularly since then in different locations throughout Europe and Asia. The meeting always attracts a substantial number of contributions from participants from different backgrounds and countries. The variety of topics and experiences is one of the main reasons behind the success of the series.

The dynamic growth of Colombia and, in particular, the rapid development of Medellin, which has recently been designated the most innovative city in the world, led to its choice as the venue for the Sustainable City 2015 conference. It also seemed most appropriate for the conference to return to South America with the added symbolism of being held at UPB, an institution named in honour of the South American Liberator, Simon Bolivar.

Urban areas result in a series of environmental challenges varying from the consumption of natural resources and the subsequent generation of waste and pollution, contributing to the development of social and economic imbalances. As cities continue to grow all over the world, these problems tend to become more acute and require the development of new solutions.

The Sustainable City Conference addressed the multidisciplinary components of urban planning, the challenges presented by the increasing size of cities, the amount of resources required and the complexity of modern society.

Opening of the Conference

The Conference was opened by Prof Carlos A Brebbia who expressed his gratitude to the authorities of the Pontificia Bolivariana University for hosting the 10th Sustainable City Conference and, in particular, Prof Father Jorge Ivan Ramirez, Academic Vice Chancellor.

Carlos explained that, as originally from South America, he was pleased to participate in a meeting held at this University, named after Simon Bolivar, hoping that one day his dream of a United States of South America becomes a reality.

He also expressed his appreciation to Dr Christopher Banahan, Science and Innovation Secretary of the British Embassy in Bogotá, for making time in his busy schedule to participate in the opening ceremony.

Carlos mentioned that the Conference programme is an important part of WIT objectives. The meetings bring together colleagues from different disciplines from various parts of the world, resulting in transfer of knowledge and setting up of many joint programmes.

Because of its unique features, WIT collaborates rather than competes with other academic research institutions, acting as a focus for many initiatives, including interaction with industries.

WIT’s own research capabilities are in the field of computational methods applied to the solution of a wide range of problems. Our focus on industry – Carlos said - has led to our codes being currently used in a variety of industries such as offshore, including renewable energy, pipelines, naval engineering and aerospace. In general WIT tends to deal with extreme conditions affecting components, structures and systems. The Institute has developed, for instance, unique expertise in the field of fracture and fatigue.

Another important area of knowledge dissemination is through the Institute’s publishing arm, WIT Press which produces digital and paper versions of a large number of books, including Conference Proceedings. As part of this process WIT Press has already started a series of International Journals, the oldest of which, Sustainable Development and Planning, is closely connected with this meeting. The aim of WIT Press is for all publications to be Open Access.

WIT Press also has links with other institutions, acting in collaboration with their University Press, where necessary.

Carlos concluded by emphasising the commitment of WIT to help bring together the international community through a series of prizes and medals, including the Gold Medal in honour of Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Prize winner whose ideas permeate modern concepts of ecology and sustainability. The last of these events took place this year at the Valencia Polytech University with the cooperation of Prof Miralles, who was to deliver the first keynote address of the Conference.

Carlos concluded by stressing his Institute’s commitment to help cement links amongst diverse scientists.

Keynote Address

Father Dr Jorge Ivan Ramirez, Vice Chancellor for Research, welcomed the delegates to the Pontificia Bolivariana University.

Colombia – Father Jorge said – is a country full of resources and in a period of rapid expansion and the region around Medellin, in particular, is growing fast. The aim of UPB is to contribute to this development.

He mentioned that this conference on city sustainability is of fundamental importance as the University needs to respond to the challenges presented by a new order society.

Medellin is well placed to help in this regard as the region is an academic centre consisting of several universities and a collection of different industries.

Because of its commitment to sustainability in 2013 the City was designated as the most innovative city in the world. The University has a responsibility to contribute to these changes and offer a humanistic approach.

Father Jorge concluded by pointing out that the scientific output of the University has consisted of a significant number of innovative programmes, original papers and contributions to industry.

The next speaker was Prof Whady Florez-Escobar, Co-Chair of the Conference who referred to the importance of solving cities’ problems in an integrated way, taking into account social, economic as well as technical issues.

Culture – Whady said - provides a background for reaching a proper understanding of our society as well as of other human beings. The relationship of every man with his surroundings is dynamic (ie changing with time), simultaneous (ie everything happens at the same time) and responsive (ie progressing from one situation to another). Respect, affection and love bind all agents together and are the basis of a successful culture.

Consumerism and greed are detrimental to the harmonious progress of society, to the relationship on which the whole is based. This has led to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a minority alienating a vast number of people from our society.

To remedy this situation which affects all natural as well as human resources – Whady explained - we need to develop a new socio-economic system. To find sustainable solutions we ought to stop the destruction of nature and the exploitation of mankind.

The term cosmotheandric was originally coined by Raymond Panikkar in his book the cosmotheandric experience, where he claims that the human adventure on earth cannot be separated from the adventure of the whole reality.

The term sustainability derives from the words sustain, bear, maintain, support, endure and etymologically from the word tenere, to hold. Sustainability is the harmonious functioning of the cosmotheandric relationship, and therefore the social, political, ecological, economic and religious dimensions of society, that determine human well being over time and space to meet our current needs and the welfare of future generations.

Currently the world is experiencing a situation hitherto unique: the intense industrialization and the search for new technologies causes a trail of environmental destruction. This production system and consumption rate does bring along such drastic problems that the very continuity of life and society are put in doubt. What is not yet known, is how to change this scenario or even if that change is possible at this point.

As addressed by pope Francis in his latest encyclical entitled Laudato Si, on care for our common home, chapter 53: (the pope is no alien to science because he studied chemistry)

“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. “

According to theology, religion and even many pantheistic beliefs, the culture appears in his unequivocal notion as a way of relationship. Where there is a man there is culture, which is the way to relate to oneself, to others, to the cosmos and to God, hence it is called cosmotheandric relationship, and as a consequence, culture encompasses the whole of human existence.

Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and Nobel Prize winner of literature in 1981, described beautifully the meaning of relations in general terms. Relation is the current of secret sympathy linking the parts to the whole. Man's task is to carefully cultivate his relationship of love with himself, with others, with the cosmos and with God, because that relationship is the foundation of everything and everything exists in relation, nothing exists without relationships.

A relationship has four fundamental characteristics: it is essential, dynamic, simultaneous and reciprocal. Borrowing from Aristotelic philosophy essential means that it always exists and is in the same category as the substance. Dynamic means it is constantly evolving, Heraclitus would say nobody bathes twice in the same river. When a relationship is named as simultaneous it means that the four poles of the relationship occur at the same time and reciprocal means that it comes and goes from one pole to another.

Mode means style, state, stamp, imprint, nature, idiosyncrasy,personality. The best of modesis love, which is union of two. "Where there is no love, one gives love and gets love in return" (St John of the Cross). Love is the hallmark of man in creation.

There is only one planet we can live in and according to former pope Jean Paul II there is only one culture, that of the man and for man. Hence, the univocal notion of culture holds the other notions of culture no matter how numerous they are, and each culture is in itself a mode of culture. Culture is the man, so where there is a human being there is culture. We are agents of culture by doing what we do. Therefore, any human activity, such as politics, economy and religion is culture.

Because the culture is mode of relationship, the words mode and relationship take a special value on the basis that relationships are the foundation of culture. Although there are countless modes, there is one that is the best of them, love. We love when we discover in ourselves attitudes of welcome, understanding, generosity, trust and solidarity.

The relationship with others and with everything around us is essential in nature, and it calls for solicitous care. Our talents materialize this relationship. A talent is the same as an ability, a skill, a quality, a value. Properly speaking we have no talent but we are talented. Every human being shows a unique talent and a unique way of expressing it. I need to find my talent to cultivate it and to give meaning to my existence. When we cultivate our talents we acquire a sense of identity, location and belonging. Each of us discovers our talents by paying attention to our natural inclinations, that which attracts us, what we like, because "we have genius for what we like" (Friedrich Schlegel 18th c).

Talents are meant to serve, to tend to our needs and at the same time generate wealth, and so feel useful which is the secret of happiness. The primary task of education should be to get everyone to discover and cultivate their talents and thus to know their bearings in existence.

Politics is the art of the common welfare in community life. Every human being has a political dimension due to the essential character of the relationship with others. Everyone should cultivate his relationships diligently for them to be relationships of love and not of attachment. Greed, the need for possession, is the mortal enemy of politics and economy, as has already happened in the current global economic crisis. The god of money has no heart.

Our relationship with things is essential and we are required to take care of it with love. This concept explains ecology whose etymology means the care for home and it also explains the economy which translates good housekeeping. This comprehension is extremely important nowadays if we want sustainability to make any sense.

Economy has become very important for all as a means and often we make the mistake to turn the means into an end giving it a significance that does not apply and exaggerating the truth. According to Oxfam, the international organization, 80 people accumulate 50% of the world's wealth. Politics and economy must work together to serve the common good.

Crises can be either solved or at least contained and that task is the responsibility not only of science but all the areas of knowledge. The foundation of sustainability and sustainable development lies in the idea of rational use of resources in order to allow future generations to use these same resources to meet their own needs. In this way it would be possible to protect the environment and the civilization from degradation and still keep the economy and the city running.

For this to work, it is required the participation of the population in the promotion of gradual change of harmful habits, in the responsible consumption, and in designing government policies to tackle environmental issues. Therefore, education is necessary because it is only through it that conscious citizens are forged.

The mismatch between the three spheres: environmental, economic and socio-political, generates serious consequences such as depletion of the environment, inequality, social exclusion and crisis of confidence in the institutions, so it is necessary to find a balance to allow for the maintenance of a dignified way of life. This balance is sought through the conscious exploitation of resources, both natural and human.

The concept of green economy, proposed by the United Nations environment programme, presents a model of economy concerned with protecting the environment and the social aspect of the current crises finally bringing a solution focused on socio-environmental issues.

However nice this idea may be, it is almost impossible to achieve because people do not want to give up their comfortable way of life and they simply do not know how to change. To generate a change of attitude, it is necessary to educate people to see the real problems and to teach them how they might help.

On the other hand, quoting UNESCO, for education to be effective, students will need a new framework of knowledge, skills and values. They also need to implement practical measures that reflect an understanding of the interdependence between health and human welfare, the environment and the economy. Students should be encouraged to understand and apply the concepts of sustainability and view a sustainable future.

It is important to emphasize that every learning process should be in accordance with the culture and needs of each population group, either in or outside the country, in order to become part of everyday life for all people, regardless of their culture or way of living, and be capable of being applied in practice lest the sustainable way of life become simply rhetoric.

If universities want to educate students with a conscience in sustainability, they will have to promote interdisciplinary studies. However, at present, constructed boundaries pervade our institutions and policy structures. Universities segment researchers and students into disciplinary compartments with discrete budgets, competing for scarce resources. Interdisciplinary makes a good advertisement word, but the paradigm on which most of our universities rest goes against it. The model of negotiating among nations has failed to address climate change, devaluation, and economy crisis. In every government’s bureaucracy, different offices oversee waters and forests, as if there were actual physical barriers separating different systems. Most of the society still operates on a paradigm of simplification, compartmentalization and boundaries, when we need an opposite model of diversity, complexity, relationships and processes. Our societal structures fundamentally conflict with the messages of contemporary science. How can policy makers tackle social issues while ignoring scientific principles?

To summarise, the cosmotheandric vision gives us this wonderful unifying lesson, the harmony of everything, which is the true meaning of sustainability, and it is what man of the 21st century needs to realize his greatness in time and eternity.

The next speaker was the Architect, John Octavio Ortiz who spoke on the Circle Garden in Medellin, an integral habitat transformation.

He described the Urban Development Plan for Medellin, a department in a unique location situated in a valley with steep mountains surrounding it. Its development needs to respond to this challenge with an integrated nature protection plan rather than a series of isolated projects. The strategy should also involve the citizens in order to achieve sustainability.

A major important project at present is the development of a strip of land along the river bank. This will provide an area of public space in the direction of the main city axis.

Emphasis is given to the idea of establishing a green belt with a multipurpose area inside to minimise the damaging effects of manufacturing on Medellin’s unique environment. Already the plan is trying to recover spaces for public use and to educate the community in the importance of achieving sustainability. Ecoparks and urban orchards have sprung in the city, amongst many other initiatives.
Medellin’s development has attracted the attention of many cities around the world. It has become a case study closely followed by many.

Dr Christopher Banahan, Secretary of Science and Innovation of the British Embassy in Bogota described some of the initiatives that are taking place with the support of the UK Government.

The current trend for city population growth has opened many challenges which need to be carefully studied in order to arrive at the right results.

Christopher pointed out the need to consider not only technical aspects but all issues in order to achieve optimal solutions. He referred to several examples in the UK which confirm this requirement.

The British Government – Christopher concluded – supports the development of Colombia through a series of joint initiatives, some of them under the Newton-Caldas programme, including projects on innovation in the area of sustainability.

Conference Topics

The papers presented at the meeting were divided into a series of topics, ie

  • Planning, development and management
  • Landscape planning and design
  • Sustainable energy and the city
  • Urban strategies
  • Case studies
  • Environmental management
  • Transportation

Inivted Presentations

The conference programme included a series of keynote addresses delivered by well-known international speakers, ie:

  • Design and management of the metropolitan green belt of Aburrá Valley, Colombia” by Jose Lluis Miralles i Garcia, Politecnica University of Valencia, Spain.
  • “FAST Matrix: depicting the time-related aspect of urban development” by Robert Barelkowski, West-Pomeranian University of Technology, Poland.
  • “BRT in metropolitan regions: two examples in Brazil” by Jaime Waisman, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Conference Dinner

The programme gave the participants ample opportunities for holding discussions outside as well as in the conference rooms.  The delegates met over coffee breaks and during lunches, as well as during the different social functions organised by the University and WIT.

The International Scientific Advisory Committee met over dinner to review the conference objectives and themes.  New areas for future development were proposed, including an updated list of topics.  There were several suggestions for appointing new Committee members as well as a series of locations.  The Conference Division at WIT will look into them.

The University offered the delegates a cocktail reception, amongst the many occasions that participants had for socialising.  It took place in the marquee area, specially prepared for drinks and coffees, located next to the Aula Magna.

The Conference Dinner took place in the very pleasant setting of an Argentine restaurant on the outskirts of Medellin.  The place renowned for its cuisine and meat dishes, also offered a selection of excellent wines, specially selected by the owner and chef.  The quality of the food, convivial atmosphere and excellent service made this a unique occasion.

The Vice Chancellor invited the members of the International Scientific Committee to lunch to discuss ways in which their Institutions could collaborate with UPB.  The lunch gave the occasion to discuss different possible research projects, including some proposed by WIT.  Other projects include joint degrees, research in urbanism, social and political studies, and others.

Closing of the Conference

The Conference book is being distributed throughout the world in digital as well as paper format and archived in the eLibrary of the Wessex Institute at, ensuring the maximum dissemination of conference contributions throughout the international community.

Carlos closed the Conference thanking the delegates for having participated in this important meeting and hoping that one day they will have an occasion to visit the campus of the Wessex Institute in the New Forest National Park.

Conference Proceedings

The proceedings of Sustainable City 2015 - The Sustainable City X, 504pp (Print ISBN: 978-1-84564-942-5; eISBN: 978-1-84564-943-2) are available from WIT Press. Orders can be placed on the WIT Press web site at or by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., telephone: +44 (0) 238 029 3223 or fax: +44 (0) 238 029 2853.

Papers from the conference will also be hosted online at the WIT eLibrary in Volume 194 of WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment (ISSN: 1746-448X Digital ISSN: 1743-3541). For more details visit the WIT eLibrary at

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