Adriana López, Colombia: Bridge theory and practice
Find out what a prominent young architect and urban planner prizes in the academic life.
The 27-year old architect and urbanist Adriana Patricia López Valencia is a 2010 winner of the International Green Talents Competition, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and supported by the United Nations University, Bonn. The award is given to prominent young scientists from around the world, selected for their outstanding achievements in the field of sustainability research. Adriana López received a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Colombia’s Universidad del Valle and a master’s degree in Urbanism from Universidad Nacional de Colombia. In December 2011 Adriana will begin a six-month research stay at the United Nations University in Bonn.
UNU: Why did you choose to become a scientist?
Adriana: Academic life offers a variety of experiences and at the same time provides incentives for self-improvement. It is a lifestyle that involves interaction with people around the world through research networks. I enjoy being part of this fascinating world, interacting with other cultures, and learning from every person I know. I also enjoy the freedom of developing my own research and following my interests.
UNU: Where does your interest in urban planning originate?
Adriana: I got interested in urban planning while I was studying architecture. I had the opportunity to work with different interdisciplinary teams that contributed to the formation of a new way of looking at territorial problems. We thought of ways to make a territory sustainable through the integration of social, economic, environmental and political aspects. As an architect and urbanist, I could also see the spatial implications of the four aspects I mentioned.
UNU: Where does your interest in sustainable development come from?
Adriana: I started working in the field of sustainable development during my undergraduate studies in architecture. It was then that I realized the importance of having a more complex vision of urban problems.
UNU: How would you define sustainable development in your own words?
Adriana: Sustainability is when my actions do not end where those of others start. We must think cyclically in the daily development processes that allow us to meet our needs and develop a distinct culture in which every element is designed to serve and last.
UNU: What are the biggest sustainability challenges of our time?
Adriana: The biggest challenge of our time is to understand what is truly sustainable. We need to ensure that all inhabitants of a town and a country understand that they are linked in a network or a system. In such a system, due to their linking habits and daily activities, they either contribute to or hinder the lives of other parts of the system.
UNU: What are the biggest challenges that science can help solve in Colombia?
Adriana: Science, and I mean not only natural but also social sciences, can help solve the foremost problem of my country: poverty. Some of the important steps are the establishment of the mechanisms of community participation in economic processes, involving local production, planning and land management guided by the carrying capacity of the territory, and the generation of innovative knowledge.
Science and society
UNU: What do you think should be the role of scientists today?
Adriana: Apply knowledge. We must both advance the construction of knowledge and use it for practical purposes. It can be done in simulation models applied to real cases, in cooperation with local governments applying regional development policies. Intersectoral and interdisciplinary cooperation is essential to achieving sustainability.
UNU: Do you feel that scientific results are properly taken into account by decision makers?
Adriana: Not entirely. I believe that decision makers need to be better informed about issues. In addition, I am not sure whether this is universally true but it is common in Latin American countries that vested interests take precedence over common interests, which has a direct effect on investment flows.
UNU: What needs to be done?
Adriana: Scientists and researchers from all areas should get more in touch with the political world. They should get involved in decision-making processes through national legal mechanisms and take positions on the issues that concern us all as a community.
Green Talents Competition, innovation and international research cooperation
UNU: What motivated you to participate in the Green Talents competition?
Adriana: The Green Talents competition offers to young researchers from around the world the opportunity to learn more about Germany and its opportunities to strengthen international research links. As part of a research group in my country, I became attracted by the opportunity of a research internship at a German university or research center, possibly initiating relations between German institutions and my research group in Colombia. I have been accepted for a research stay at the United Nations University’s Institute of Environment and Human Security in Bonn.
UNU: As part of the award, you had an opportunity to visit Germany’s top research institutions. What do you think is the strength of German scientists and German technology and research?
Adriana: The higher education institutions in Germany known as Fachhochschulen, or universities of applied sciences, provide the link between theoretical and practical work, which I consider to be something very important. The application of knowledge is one of the factors that make Germany a strong leader in research.
UNU: How can innovation be promoted?
Adriana: Before we begin to innovate, a country, region or city should begin to define their vocation and their role in both the local and the global market, so that they can determine where to focus their efforts. Innovation must include participation from academia, state and private companies, all seeking to improve their processes for prioritizing the development of technologies that contribute to climate change mitigation. Society itself must participate in the mechanisms of innovation through bringing local knowledge together to add value to production, thereby making it an endogenous generation of innovative knowledge.
UNU: What conditions are essential for international research cooperation?
Adriana: Not all technologies and scientific methods developed in certain regions of the world are applicable in other contexts. It is essential to consider the cultural relevance of technology transfer and the local capacity to absorb a particular type of technology. I personally believe that it is important to support the generation of endogenous knowledge and that knowledge needs to be adapted to local conditions. International actors must be aware that knowledge transfer from developed to developing countries must include support mechanisms.
Oksana Buranbaeva (buranbaeva[at]vie.unu.edu)
Jessica Rosenfeld contributed to this article.
Contest winners shine with green talent in Our World 2.0
Tags: Beautiful Minds, Environment, Green Talents, Green Talents Competition, innovation, international research cooperation, outstanding young scientists, research, research for sustainability, science, Science for Sustainability, UNU, UNU-EHS, Urban Planning