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7 Questions with Carla Hermida : Universidad Del Azuay

Researcher and Team Leader at Universidad del Azuay for the S²Cities Programme

The S²Cities programme is rooted in the belief that the best solutions come from a holistic understanding of urban safety, grounded in real-world practice and evidence. Our research partners, a consortium of Universidad Del Azuay, City Space Architecture and Placemaking X, are crucial pillars in this process, as are collaborating with us to generate and disseminate invaluable knowledge, that allows for systems change.


We are also striving to deepen our understanding of the societal-relational drivers behind safety, exploring the interplay between youth, communities and their urban environments. Through our research, we hope to create new knowledge that supports the programme’s development, implementation, learnings and scalability potential and generate valuable insights on improving urban safety!


In this interview, researcher and team leader, Carla Hermida talks about various aspects related to Universidad Del Azuay’s involvement as Research Partners in the S²Cities programme. As we near 3 years of S²Cities, she also shares insights from comprehensive data collected across all programme cities.


The University Del Azuay, a Higher Education Institution situated in the city ​​of Cuenca, serves as S²Cities’ global research partner. The University educates its students with critical thinking and ethical commitment to society. Through its different departments, the university produces science and knowledge, searching to contribute to sustainable development goals.



1. City Collab (CCO): What role does Universidad Del Azuay play in the S²Cities programme, and what anticipated outcomes does your institution aim to achieve through its contribution?


Carla Hermida (CH): The Universidad del Azuay collaborates with City Space Architecture and Placemaking X in the S²Cities programme. We lead project coordination, while City Space Architecture oversees academic coordination, and Placemaking X provides advisory support. Our goal is to collect and analyze data for scientific research, aiming to publish academic papers accessible globally. We also aim to propose research instruments for publication or conference presentation, emphasizing their replicability for comparison of data worldwide.



2. CCO: Could you outline the strategic plan of action that your institution has developed to realise the expected outcomes within the S²Cities programme?


CH: A concise plan was organised in 3 work packages according to the involved cities: Cuenca, Bandung and Envigado, as each city´s team proposed a distinct methodology for researching safety for young people in public spaces.


3. CCO: How does Universidad Del Azuay approach the process of formulating and executing research initiatives within the framework of the S²Cities programme?


CH: The Safe and Sound Cities (S²Cities) programme focuses on improving safety and well-being for the youth population in Global South contexts. This research project aims to develop and test research tools within urban spaces to contribute to safer cities for young people based on scientific data. The collaboration involves Universidad del Azuay, responsible for project coordination; City Space Architecture, managing academic coordination; and Placemaking X, providing advisory support. The investigations are strategically designed to revolve around the interconnection of three key elements: public space, safety, and the needs of young people. These elements were identified through a literature review as crucial for sustainable and inclusive cities.


4. CCO: What specific objectives guide the research activities undertaken by your institution, and what criteria were considered in selecting these parameters?


CH: The criteria for the objectives are precisely the conjunction of three key elements: public space, safety and youngsters. Below are the general objectives of each research unit:


Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador Unit:
To identify the socio-spatial factors that influence safety perception of young people in the public space using Cuenca, Ecuador, as a case-study.


Envigado, Antioquia, Colombia Unit:
To discuss the Theory of Change (TOC)’s activities in regard of young low-income population of specific areas in Envigado, with the purpose to – through a series of actions related to culture and recreation – conceptualize new approaches, methods, and practices that enhance urban safety.


Bandung, West Java, Indonesia Unit:
Cocreating and testing a novel next-generation information transformational toolset, the Zero Minute Safe City (ZMSC) model, for the improvement of the safety and wellbeing of Indonesian vulnerable urban communities.



5. CCO: In the context of urban safety and well-being, what methodologies and tools does your institution use for collection and analysis of data? Are there specific data sources that you consistently rely on?


CH: Different research instruments have been employed to address urban safety and well-being, aligning with the primary objectives of each research unit and corresponding research question.


The research unit in Cuenca employs two qualitative instruments to comprehend the socio-spatial factors influencing safety perceptions among young people in public spaces in Cuenca, Ecuador. The methodology involves a sequential process beginning with non-participant observation to systematically evaluate public spaces’ safety and understand young people’s experiences within them. Interviews are then conducted, informed by the observation results, to explore specific factors influencing safety perceptions among youth within the studied public spaces.


The Envigado research unit adopts a mixed methodology, gathering narratives from young individuals through a crowdsourced and crowd-mapped platform. They employ Design Thinking during the empathy phase to formulate How Might We (HMW) questions.


The Bandung research unit methodology employed a post-positivist-interpretivist paradigm, supporting collaborative exploratory research to address general principles, methods, and instruments. The research utilize a qualitative, inductive, and multi-method case study methodology . Data collection and processing were conducted on the case study, a core public space of a representative urban kampung (informal neighbourhood), through fieldwork, stakeholder engagement and digital modelling. This included LiDAR scanning surveys, field observations, workshops, focus group discussions, interviews, digital twinning and extended reality toolset (ZMSC model) creation. The ZMSC model, an immersive, multi-access, self-governed hybrid space, was co-designed, developed and tested with the selected stakeholders through multiple iterative observation-interpretation-projection cycles.


The research instruments mentioned have a proven track record of effectiveness in the literature review. The innovation lies in their tailored adaptation to suit the unique contexts of Cuenca, Envigado, and Bandung.


6. CCO: Could you share insights from your experiences with on-field data collection in Cuenca, one of S²Cities programme cities?


CH: It has been a compelling experience as we have successfully developed research instruments with the potential utility for future applications in other cities. These instruments were applied by university students, facilitating the immersion of young individuals in research topics. Along with these successes, we have encountered some barriers in the process.


The first stage of direct non-participant observation presented initial hurdles, such as unexpected occurrences in public areas and challenging weather conditions, necessitating adjustments to observation schedules. However, in the second stage, opportunities emerged amidst challenges. The large size of parks and limited research personnel led to a collaboration with students from the esteemed School of Architecture at the University of Azuay. These students were invited to participate, with extracurricular hours provided as a token of appreciation. Moreover, to ensure precision and reliability in data collection, two comprehensive training sessions were organised — one focusing on theoretical aspects at the university premises, while the other emphasised practical application in the study sites.


The final challenge arose during the recruitment process for focus groups, where safety concerns necessitated a shift towards conducting semi-structured interviews. This adjustment opened up new avenues for inclusivity and diversity. To ensure comprehensive and unbiased results, a wide array of young users from various backgrounds including school and university students, as well as individuals of all genders, were carefully considered and included in the study.


7. CCO: What aspects of the S²Cities programme are particularly exciting for your institution, and what specific anticipations do you have for the future of your involvement?


CH: Collaborating with the S²Cities programme has provided us with a comprehensive and global understanding of safety perspectives in public spaces. Furthermore, it has also offered insights into international collaboration and the use of innovative tools for disseminating scientific knowledge. Working with researchers from diverse countries within the core team has been enriching, allowing for the exchange of knowledge and expertise.


The Universidad Del Azuay has gained valuable insights into engaging with young people effectively, utilizing both verbal and visual communication tailored to their generation. Recognizing the importance of considering young people’s perspectives, we aim to involve them in generating significant changes, fostering a sense of ownership and care for parks and public spaces. This could lead to a continuous intergenerational interest in enhancing public areas.


Throughout the research process, new questions have arisen, prompting a desire to address knowledge gaps and explore new aspects related to factors influencing the park environment. While our study in Cuenca focused on three types of urban parks, such as pocket parks or neighborhood parks, there are others with significant differences, such as “Megaparks” on the outskirts characterized by substantial size and municipal investment.


To explore these new research questions, we are considering various approaches. Undergraduate and graduate students, introduced to the project through their involvement in non-participant observation, are extending the study to other parks in Cuenca. They will receive additional training to ensure optimal application of instruments and standardized analysis of results. Additionally, we are exploring the possibility of proposing national and international research projects to secure funding for further investigation of identified research gaps.

Further Reading