In June I had the opportunity to be the ETH delegate to the Chicago Forum on Global Cities. A blog post by last year’s ETH delegate Jascha had initially drawn my attention to the event. Originally keen to learn more about cities and climate change mitigation in Chicago, it gave me new insights into the urbanization issues that left a lasting impression.
One of the major advantages of being a delegate to an international forum is meeting new people and getting to know the world’s challenges through their eyes. Listening to a violinist from Syria about the war in her homeland is much more moving than getting daily updates from a news anchor. Also, I found it very refreshing to be surrounded by a student delegation of diverse backgrounds, which was a stark contrast to ETH's engineering-focused environment. Given each student’s individual field of studies, home country and journey through life, I am sure each of them would have chosen a different urban issue as the most urgent.
As a result, many panels during the conference provided insights into urban problems that I don’t think about often in daily life. It’s not that they are unimportant issues, but they just seem so distant when studying in your ETH bubble. They ranged from health issues to inequality and segregation. A shocking fact that I took back home from Chicago: apparently the average life expectancy here varies with the postal code by up to 16 years. An ironic incident is that it would appear that I flew all the way from Zurich to Chicago to listen to the mayor of Zurich – Corine Mauch – explaining the different governmental levels in Switzerland during a panel on Metropolitan Governance.
When it comes to climate change mitigation, the participants’ expectations of cities’ activities were astonishingly high. It appeared that President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement really increased this subject’s popularity. What about you – did you already know that cities are responsible for more than two thirds of energy-related carbon emissions globally?
In our spare time my fellow delegates and I discovered Chicago and enjoyed the advantages of being in a global city. We listened to Mavis Staples at the Chicago Blues Festival in Millennium Park, admired art pieces by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti at the Art Institute of Chicago, and enjoyed Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza.
I can recommend participating in next year’s forum to all ETH students who are interested in urban challenges and keen to broaden their horizon in Chicago.
About the author
Paul recently finished his MSc in Mechanical Engineering. In his semester project at ETH’s Energy Politics Group, he investigated global cities’ role in the energy transition, in particular urban deployment of solar PV.