FCRI and ASEAN Education Cities Conference 2023

Co-organised by FCRI, the ASEAN Education Cities Conference 2023 focuses on the way cities function as spaces for education, but also how educational institutions can support the sustainable development of cities and communities, through research, teaching, policy advising and public engagement.

The AECC 2023 will serve as a platform for researchers and scholars from academic, industry, organisations and other stakeholders, to share their ideas, best practices or research findings on smart and sustainable cities, and to work together towards developing an exploring new ways of educating the next generations of planetary-health caretakers.

It will feauture a range of talks and speakers from policy makers to researchers and will include presentaton by key FCRI members.

To find out more information download the conference Brochure and Programme.

FCRI Symposium at Sunway University 5th-8th July 2022

FCRI Co-Directors and Theme Leads, alongside LU and SU Senior Management

The first in-person event for the Future Cities Research Institute was held at Sunway University in July 2022. This symposium coincided with the Lancaster University (LU) – Sunway University (SU) 15 Year Partnership Anniversary Celebration, and strengthened the synergies and networks built remotely during the pandemic.

The Lancaster University delegation, composed of Institute Co-Director Professor Emmanuel Tsekleves; theme leads Professor Roger Pickup, Professor Kirk Semple, Professor Juliana Sutanto, Dr Alison Stowell, and Professional Services lead Dr Mandy Dillon, travelled to Sunway in July 2022. The group was also joined by Marta Ferri, a PhD candidate researching plastic and the circular economy, following a win of a PGR competition to join the trip.

On the first day, Tuesday 6th July, the two Co-Directors (Prof. Emmanuel Tsekleves and Prof. Sabine-Salima Chaouche), along with the theme leads from both universities, met for informal meetings on the Sunway University campus. After these meetings, there was a surprise visit to Chef Soon’s kitchen, organised by Dr Jane Gew Lai Ti. Chef Soon kindly prepared a tasty treat for the FCRI group, and showed how his kitchen aspires to apply the zero-waste philosophy put forward by the Culinary Labs Food Waste Management System. As part of this, Chef Soon and his students use reusable plastic dishes to portion and serve desserts, thus reducing the creation of plastic waste. Food waste is also separated, and later composted.

Chef Soon demonstrates his zero-waste dessert production.

In the afternoon, the FCRI group visited Sunway City. Here they visited the Sunway University urban farm (FutureX Farm) where a multidisciplinary team of research academics and students grow a diverse selection of produce. The products are sold locally, offering a pesticide-free and reduced-packaging alternative to buying in supermarkets, making FutureX Farm a working example of sustainability in an urban space.

The FCRI group visits the FutureX Farm

On Thursday 7th July, the FCRI team presented the vision, mission, plans, theme research, and ongoing projects to senior management from both LU and SU, in a “show and tell” event. The presentations were well received and reaffirmed the commitment of senior management to the FCRI, and its strategic role across both institutions and for the partnership between the two universities. This event was followed by a formal dinner, where conversations continued around the FCRI and its research themes.

The following day, an awareness and capacity building workshop was held. The FCRI team presented the institute, its current projects, and future research plans to a list of 30 researchers from various disciplines from across Sunway University. Workshop participants had the opportunity to engage with theme leads on future research collaborations, as well as providing feedback and suggestions on the presented FCRI programme of activities. Training was also provided on the forthcoming external funding landscape and the optimal ways of drafting an impactful research abstract.

The conference came to a close on Friday 8th July, successfully strengthening the synergies built remotely during the pandemic and illustrated FCRI’s interdisciplinary pathways moving forward. The Institute was launched during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and this first in-person event demonstrated how the FCRI significantly reflects the uncertainty of our times, and it’s aims at bringing solutions to the challenges that urban spaces will face in the future.

The FCRI will be hosting its next webinar in new academic year.

Malaysia Symposium: FCRI Show and Tell

As part of the FCRI and fifteen year anniversary celebrations between Lancaster University and Sunway University, a delegation of Lancaster University academics travelled to Sunway University in Malaysia for a series of research-related activities and events.

On the 7th of July, the two Co-Directors and the leads of the four themes of the FCRI, presented a “Show and Tell” style event to the senior management from both Universities. These presentations included information on the vision, mission, approach, and proposed programme of activities for the FCRI.

The event started with Professor Mahendhiran Nair of Sunway University emphasising the importance of collaboration between the two universities in working towards a sustainable future, focusing on the health of our planet. The theme leads presented the direction of their respective themes and the vision for the seed corn funded projects that they have been working on.

  • Dr Wong, for the Digital Cities Theme, illustrated how city dwellers, particularly those in younger generations, worry about an accessible transportation network and see education as the gateway to promoting a sustainable lifestyle.
  • The Resilient Cities theme leads, Professor Sutanto and Dr Goh, spoke about their work on designing urban disaster management as a response to the recent floods in Malaysia. Findings exhibited the necessity of including senior citizens’ needs in responses to natural disasters.
  • Professor Pickup and Dr Ranjanthran, the Liveable Cities theme leads, discussed their progress in the shared research initiative regarding Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and concluded with a call for projects in the future, to assess the increase of the illness in Southern Asia.
  • The Sustainable Cities Theme leads, Dr Stowell, Professor Fujimoto, and Dr Jane, showed how their team has developed research related to CSR/ESG frameworks and waste management practices, engaging in capacity-building dialogues with academia and industry. Their aims include continuing the cross-institutional research collaboration for urban sustainability.

The event concluded with Professor Simon Guy (LU) giving the FCRI full support, as well as applauding the ambition and resilience of those involved during the pandemic. He also remarked enthusiastically upon the collaborative ethos demonstrated by each theme, the global and yet inclusive perspective, and the development of the interdisciplinary methodology.

The Human Particles of Planetary Health

By Professor Sabine Chaouche, Associate Dean (Research and Postgraduate Studies), School of Arts,  Co-Director (Sunway) – Future Cities Research Institute*.

Cities have always been living spaces, created and developed by and for humans, that is, by and for bodies and souls. The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said about the relationship between the body and the soul: “just as general good condition of the body is compounded of the partial excellences, so also is the excellence of the soul qua end” (Eudemian Ethics, 1219b29-21a4). He meant that several parts of the body must work excellently to ensure overall well-being.

Just as Mother Earth is a particle of the universe that has its own rights and one might call its “partial excellences”, cities around the world themselves are living microcosms that play a certain role in planetary well-being. They are core elements of Mother Earth like any living beings are, since they are part of and form the Earth’s ecosystem. However, human-dominated ecosystems like cities are unstable, very heterogenous and complexly hybrid, as they are made of natural and technological elements managed through urban design and planning as well as city leadership. Like living organisms (plants and animals), humans who have created these cities can be producers, consumers or decomposers (recycling of matter).

Looking at the current threats in Malaysia such as a decrease in biodiversity (due to deforestation), climate change (in particular natural disasters resulting from it), increasing environmental issues such as air and water pollution, and a low rate of recycling (31.52 per cent in 2021), it is now necessary for all its beings to balance their doings. Harmony is the key to liveability ― not just for humans, but for all. The so-called “Anthropocene Epoch” becomes almost obscene. Humans have such a great effect on their environment, their cities, and the planet as a whole that this has led to the current global crisis. Our own wrongdoings threaten life itself because, instead of being “decomposers” on top of producers and consumers, we have essentially become destroyers and wasters: what remains from human activity is not reintegrated into the life cycle.

So, let’s go back to Aristotle’s philosophy and reflect on it. Cities with their populations and built environments, have their own soul (made of minds), and a body (made of matters). Thus, cities must strive for moral and physical excellence: the former is related to notions such as ethics and intellect; the latter to habitus (ingrained habits) and praxis (embodiment of customs). These are intertwined. So the main question is not how we should do to be good, but how we should be to do good.

What way and pathway do we want to follow to be in accord with the flow of Nature? During the lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many city dwellers have tasted the bitterness of confinement, being trapped in condos. Some dreamt of those havens of peace with green landscapes, the wind gently swaying the branches of trees, and the soothing shade of rain trees. By being forced to slow down our movements and actions, we have somehow simply left space in ourselves for self-reflection and given ourselves more time to be present. While we are historically reaching a point of no return, we have reconnected our minds with nature and what seems to be our true nature: being. Will we have the spleen to be true to ourselves when all but concrete jungles are gone; when animals and plants are mere images on screens, being entirely replaced by robots and Artificial Intelligence (AIs)? The health of the planet primarily lies in our minds, and then in our hands.

In this context, the ancient philosophical adage “exercise your body to have a healthy mind” (mens sana in corpore sano) needs to be revisited as it is not the way to achieve a ‘[good] general condition’ [of the planet]. The relationship between body and mind/soul has to be questioned when it comes to planetary health, as humans, by overexploiting the earth’s resources, and creating overperformance-based living systems, have exhausted the planet and, unfortunately, its ability to recover. What should really be “exercised” to be healthy is our minds, and also perhaps consciousness, on an almost spiritual level. Let us strive to regenerate the failing parts of mankind and energise the pulse of the cities we live in. By searching and working together with an open mind, we, the human particles of planetary health, can find solutions that will lead not just to technological progress, which we tend to rely on too much, but more importantly to behavioural changes which, in turn, will lead to a more sustainable environment. 

Researchers can play a central role in this new approach. They can dedicate themselves to cultivating, at the heart of cosmopolitan and universalist research, new civic values, vision and mission which will be essential for improving and balancing the being and the doing, and thus the living condition of the planet and its cities.

*First Publsihed in Business Today on 3rd July 2022