The path to urban sustainability starts by creating substantive linkages between city building, community, health and well-being. Urbanization is ramping up in every major region of the world, especially in developing countries. According to Cristina, this process can begin only when we understand how and why the community influences trends in urban development.

Tackling Inequality: communal spaces as an essential element of healthy community building.

Associate dean, Cristina Mateo, dives into the role that urban studies play in building sustainable and inclusive communities.

Recently, IE School of Architecture & Design launched a new undergraduate program aimed at revolutionizing the way we build and grow cities: the Bachelor in Urban Studies. Geared toward aspiring professionals who are passionate about sustainability and want to understand the drivers of urban development, this interdisciplinary program helps students develop real-world skills that equip them to lead urban change on a global scale.

The full-time program allows students to experience both Segovia and Madrid firsthand over the course of four years. Apart from empowering them with specialized knowledge and technical expertise in urban development, one of the most obvious benefits of the program is its top-tier faculty. Made up of seasoned academics and practitioners, the team of professors leading the Bachelor in Urban Studies are all renowned experts who have spent their careers on the front lines of sustainability and environmental issues worldwide.  

Meet the Faculty: Cristina Mateo

For at least 20 years, Cristina Mateo has built an inspiring professional reputation, with the credentials to back it up. Earlier on in her career, she set herself apart as a talented journalist, as well as a branding, marketing and communication specialist. However, since then, she has earned her PhD in Sociology and an Executive MBA, focusing on e-commerce, digital e-transformation and new business models. 

Cristina’s impressive resume features many coveted roles and projects, most notable of which include leading the marketing and e-commerce strategy for VisitBritain in Spain and Portugal; heading communication and social media strategy, while also contributing to international action and strategy, at the Madrid City Council; and leading strategic planning and marketing efforts for Fundación Siglo, the culture and tourism arm of Castille and Leon’s regional government.  

It is clear that Cristina’s professional experiences have led her to become a multifaceted expert in not only environmental and sustainability matters, but also in land use planning, culture and urban ethnography. As the associate dean of IE School of Architecture & Design, she now turns her well-developed skill set to academia, determined to share her learnings with the next generation of urban development professionals. 

Community Building as a Key to Sustainability

For many experts in the field, the path to urban sustainability starts by creating substantive linkages between city building, community, health and well-being. And now that urbanization is ramping up in every major region of the world—especially in developing countries—there is a need to reexamine the synergies underpinning sustainable growth.  

According to Cristina, this process can begin only when we understand how and why the community influences trends in urban development. By creating spaces that encourage people to come together, professionals can mitigate the most typical challenges of urbanization, including pollution, inadequate physical and social infrastructure, lack of affordable housing and insecurity, among others. Instead, they can shape development in a way that leads to the overall safety and well-being of everyone living in urban areas. 

“Spaces that build community tend to be spaces that bring the physical and the virtual together,” Cristina notes. Not only does this kind of flexibility attract people to urban areas, but it also encourages the connection and integration of diverse groups of people—creating environments that lead to spatial growth occurring hand-in-hand with economic prosperity for all.

Three Elements of Healthy Community Spaces

In explaining how we can create spaces that build community, Cristina notes that they all share three common characteristics:

  1. They are Inclusive

For any communal space to be considered as inclusive, Cristina explains that they must be both “accessible to the general public” and “welcoming to the community” as a whole. She calls these types of spaces “community builders,” where everyone can feel both comfortable and at ease. “They are low profile…[and] unpretentious; that’s a very good quality,” she adds.

Moreover, they offer a wide range of services—including access to Wi-Fi—either at a reduced price or completely complementary. They also follow best practices in terms of lighting and noise management, creating optimal conditions for people to unwind, chat and otherwise connect with each other. 

  1. They are Neutral

Healthy communal spaces need to be neutral and playful, offering a “relaxed atmosphere” that encourages people to “move freely and without any boundaries,” as Cristina points out. This means that, rather than fostering particular ideologies or points of view, these community builders become impartial environment.

  1. They are a Source of Refuge

Lastly, Cristina insists that healthy communal spaces offer a sense of refuge that makes people “feel at home, in a sort of ontological sense.” They provide a symbiotic network that encourages community members to feel secure, protected and supported. For Cristina, integration is key to this, as “the communities of those who are within and those who are outside are actually an integral part of that sense of refuge.”

What Can this Bachelor’s Degree do for you?

Ensuring sustainable development while revitalizing neighborhoods and ensuring the safety of our communities is one of the main cornerstones of urban studies. Our program will add value to your resume as it empowers you to tackle the modern challenges of development and community building—all while positioning you to build a successful, impact international career.