World Resources Institute Announces Its Inaugural Ross Prize for Cities Winner

The awardee, the School Area Road Safety Assessments and Improvements (SARSAI) program, drastically improved pedestrian safety levels in sub-Saharan countries.

WRI Ross Prize 2019
A SARSAI class Courtesy WRI Ross Center

On April 10 in New York City, the World Resources Institute (WRI) debuted the inaugural WRI Ross Prize for Cities. The Prize is bestowed upon a transformative urban project, one that benefits its stakeholders in multiple ways and extends its impact beyond its immediate site.

The judging process was extensive: Over the course of a year, the WRI Ross Prize committee vetted roughly 200 applicants. The jury was composed of industry leaders and urban innovators, including architects Norman Foster, David Adjaye, and Rahul Mehrotra. According to the WRI, its judges sought out projects that “impact the lives of city residents, the form and function of urban economies, environments and wider communities.” Jessica Seddon, the director of Integrated Urban Strategy at the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, noted “an emphasis on shared public space with an edge towards green—access to nature.”

Presented at The Shed in Hudson Yards, the $250,000 award was given to School Area Road Safety Assessments and Improvements (SARSAI), for its simple, replicable, and impactful approach to creating safer commutes for child pedestrians in nine sub-Saharan countries. SARSAI is currently implemented by the nonprofit Amend, under the lead of program director Ayikai Poswayo. According to a 2018 study by the World Health Organization, 44 percent of pedestrian and cyclist mortalities occur in Africa, even as only 2 percent of the world’s motor vehicles are located on the continent. In some African cities, children are more than twice as likely to die in an automobile accident than their peers in other parts of the world. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for example, an average of 12 students per academic year were injured or killed in road-related incidents during their commute to school.

WRI Ross Prize 2019
A SARSAI intervention Courtesy WRI Ross Center

SARSAI reduced such injuries in Dar es Salaam by 26 percent and prevented most deaths. The program’s data-driven, evidence-based approach includes pinpointing the most at-risk areas and implementing inexpensive but effective solutions, such as education programs for citizens and city officials, the installation of speed bumps, and the development of new traffic routes. Though the enforcement of new policies can be difficult, Poswayo says the initiative’s ultimate goal is “to create awareness of the issues and to transition ownership of responsibilities to local governments.”

Four finalists also received accolades from the jury. The Eskisehir Urban Development Project revitalized the riverfront city of Eskisehir, Turkey after the city experienced a decade of decline. The project’s mix of green and gray infrastructure foregrounds accessibility and sustainability, helping rewrite the shared narrative for a community fighting to emerge from its post-industrial woes.

Another finalist was Metrocable, the innovative aerial tram system in Medellín, Colombia. The city, once known as the murder capital of the world, has also battled to transform itself. The Metrocable network, which opened in 2004, enables new connections between the city’s hillside communities. Stringing together major public works—like libraries, parks, and schools—the trams have helped connect locals to existing amenities and resources.

The theme of interconnection was also essential to Warwick Junction, a marketplace and master plan of sorts in Durban, South Africa, that created a more inclusive city for marginalized workers, commuters, and shoppers. The project was a collaboration between the nonprofit Asiye eTafuleni and the city’s informal traders. Warwick Junction provided a way to build a hybrid economy that combines informal markets and public space, thereby improving the cultural and economic responsiveness of the city.

Lastly, the support of informal communities featured prominently in SWaCH Pune Seva Sahakari Sanstha, a member-owned cooperative in Pune, India. Through ingenuity and enterprise, SWaCH members extended door-to-door waste collection to local communities previously unserviced while helping pull their own families out of poverty.

Overall, the WRI’s finalists and prize-winner all forefront urban solutions that can scale across multiple contexts. With this inaugural award, the WRI hopes to help ailing cities get back on track toward a more sustainable and equitable trajectory.

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