"The physical design of cities and their economic functions are secondary to their relationship to the natural environment and to the spiritual values of human community." Lewis Mumford

IdealcityHalf the world's population of 7 billion live in cities.  Another 2 billion are expected to become city dwellers by 2030.  Urban life is a fact of life for most of us.

Canada itself has become an urban nation, to borrow a phrase from Alan Broadbent, with  almost 80% of our population living in cities.  Cities today have complex infrastructure and social needs yet they are governed by rules established at Confederation when Canada was rural. Their revenue sources are restricted to property taxes and fees, and they are entirely dependent on provincial governments for permission to do anything new in any field of activity.

That's too bad. While cities may not have much power, many of the social, environmental and financial challenges of the 21st century reside in cities. And so do the solutions. Poverty, social isolation, reliance on fossil fuels, food security, cultural expression and economic growth all end up on the desks of City Councils – certainly as moral responsibilities if not statutory and legislative.

Fortunately cities are containers of creativity and they continuously push boundaries, innovate and pioneer solutions. The Four Pillars Drug Strategy is one of numerous examples.

On February 1st and 2nd, 2012 Vancouver will host The Cities Summit.  They will assemble international business and urban leaders to design the creative, practical solutions for a sustainable urban future.  Topics include cities as engines of research and innovation; going digital; cities supporting early stage innovation and investing in urban infrastructure.

I have two concerns.  One is the absence of a stream related to social innovation.  Since the agenda is still under construction I'm hopeful this will be remedied.  The other is lack of scholarships to ensure social entrepreneurs who are creating jobs, bringing investments and solving tough social and environmental challenges can attend.

As for the 2012 TED   prize – this year it is being awarded to the City 2.0.  Where, what and who is a mystery.  Here are the criteria. 

  • The City 2.0 is not a sterile utopian dream, but a real-world upgrade tapping into humanity’s collective wisdom.
  • The City 2.0 promotes innovation, education, culture, and economic opportunity.
  • The City 2.0 reduces the carbon footprint of its occupants, facilitates smaller families, and eases the environmental pressure on the world’s rural areas.
  • The City 2.0 is a place of beauty, wonder, excitement, inclusion, diversity, life.

Looks like Vancouver is getting a head start on its application!

Note:

The painting is La Citta Ideale by either one of two Renaissance artists Pierro della Francesca or Luciano Laurano.

Resources:

Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities

Alan Broadbent's book Urban Nation: Why We Need to give Power Back to the Cities to make Canada Strong.

Global Civic Policy Society – the latest initiative of former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan

Vibrant Communities: Canadian cities reducing Poverty  – their goal 100 Canadian cities leaning to reduce poverty together

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