When I think of sustainable cities, I am immediately thrown back into my time as an exchange student in the multimillion-dollar city of Yangon, Myanmar. The bustling and loud traffic that I could stand for a long time and be fascinated by. How a system crystallized out of what at first I only experienced as chaos. The narrow sidewalks with high edges and insidious holes to fall with my foot in. How I quickly learned to put away the phone when I moved outside and how the mantra "eyes on the ground" became my constant companion.
The situation in Yangon, with traffic, exhaust fumes and lack of infrastructure, is of course problematic but nothing that surprised me. What instead hit me the hardest was what people I saw around me, or perhaps rather did not see. It made me think about sustainability in a new perspective for me. One of the sub-goals in sustainability goal number 11 in Agenda 2030 is to "Provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green spaces and public spaces, in particular for women and children, the elderly and people with disabilities."
Although I met women in the streets and markets of Yangon, the other outdoor meeting places were for men. Young guys who danced and listened to music or went skateboarding and inline skating on ramps under bridges, men of different ages who played the national sport Chinelone where there was space. I rarely saw the elderly moving far from their homes and the only time I met someone in a wheelchair was during a visit to the city hospital.
However, change is underway. At university, I met young women with their sights set on high positions in society and a new view of family and work compared to previous generations. The changed structure will probably soon be reflected in public environments where women are included in a different way than today. Hopefully, at the next visit, I will also be met by investments in physical accessibility for those who today are hindered by deficient streets and inaccessible public transport.