Some of the world’s brightest students will converge on UNSW this week for a summit on the ideal future city – a multicultural, aesthetic metropolis resilient to climate change.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane and UNSW Associate Professor Elizabeth Farrelly are among keynote speakers at the Universitas 21 ‘Shaping the Future City’ Summer School, hosted at UNSW from July 3-16.

This is only the second time the prestigious summit has been held in Australia. It will bring together 125 undergraduate students from some of the world’s leading research universities to discuss the challenges of urbanisation.

The Summer School aims to foster dialogue across cultures and disciplines on some of the globe’s most pressing issues, with students selected on academic and leadership merit.

The World Health Organization estimates that 70% of people will live in cities by 2050, and summit convenor UNSW Associate Professor Linda Corkery said urbanisation was one of the key debates for the next generation.

“There has never been a more important moment for us to focus our creativity on the quality of life in the urban settings we share,” said Associate Professor Corkery, from the Faculty of Built Environment.

Dr Soutphommasane will offer a robust defence of multiculturalism, which he argues is about “more than laksa, kebabs or souvlaki”.

“It doesn’t automatically spell cultural relativism, ethnic ghettos or reverse racism,” he said. “In fact, multicultural Australia has been a national success story.”

Green Cross Australia founder Mara Bun will present a keynote session on climate change, inviting delegates to consider how future cities can be designed to withstand king tides, heatwaves, water shortages and floods. High-density health challenges will also be debated.

Associate Professor Farrelly, a Fairfax columnist, author and academic from UNSW’s Graduate School of Urbanism, in the Faculty of Built Environment, is to argue the aesthetic case.

“The city is humanity's finest artwork and its ultimate survival device. Cities of the future will be dense, green, finely textured, intensely local and bursting with life. They will also be – have to be – beautiful. This is the challenge, and the excitement, of the coming century,” she said. 

Siobhan Toohill, Westpac Head of Group Sustainability and Community will deliver the opening address.

Now in its eleventh year, U21 Summer School unites students from 27 institutions across the Universitas 21 network, of which UNSW is a founding member. Delegates are attending from countries including China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Chile, South Africa, the US, UK and New Zealand.

Media contact: Susi Hamilton, UNSW Media Office, (02) 9385 8920 or 0422 934 024 or