New Cities Summit – Paris 14 – 16 May
The New Cities Summit, recently held in La Défense in Paris, revealed the huge potential of creating a high-profile forward-looking international platform for exchange of knowledge and networking between key actors working with 21st century urban challenges.
The annual New Cities Summit is organized by the New Cities Foundation - a non-profit Swiss institution “dedicated to improving the quality of life and work in the 21st-century global city, with a particular focus on the new cities of Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa”.
The first New Cities Summit was held as a by invitation-only event with the participation of leaders from prominent corporations, public institutions and non-profit organizations working in the fields of technology, infrastructure, architecture, energy, transport, the media, and academic research. And precisely this combination of top figures from different fields and sectors has contributed to create a highly dynamic event.
The various sessions in the program were consequently designed as platforms to bring together leading actors from different sectors. Typically included were representatives from national or local government (such as mayors, former mayors, as well as a UK Minister of Parliament), CEOs from leading corporations working with urban development such as CISCO, GE and Ericsson (all three are founding partners of New Cities Foundation), leading academics (such as Carlo Ratti from SENSEable City Lab MIT, and Richard Burdett from LSE Cities), prominent practitioners (such as architect Daniel Libeskind), non-profit organizations, and media figures (including Richard Quest who edits the CNN series Future Cities). That these actors shared platforms for discussion around particular themes at the summit proved, in my opinion, to be a highly successful approach.
This was particularly illustrated by a break-out session entitled Governing the Metropolis: new forms of governance for 21st century cities that saw the participation of a former mayor of Washington DC, a former mayor from Indiana, and the President of Globalisation and Smart+Connected Communities, Cisco Systems amongst others. That session explored collaboration and partnerships (notably between the public and the private sectors), which was one of the central themes of the summit . What was particularly interesting in this discussion was the fact that despite similarity in the challenges cities are faced with, it is clear that new initiatives and projects call for new types of collaboration that are specific for each city. It was apparent in that session, and throughout the summit, that a number of cities and private companies are actively searching – through new projects – to develop specific forms of partnership, which explore the huge potential of new ICT technologies in urban development and which engage local actors and resources.
This emphasis on partnerships also underlined the particular importance of developing new platforms for collaboration, which can facilitate the dialogue between private companies and knowledge institutions on the one hand, and city governments on the other. This is the case because city governments often focus on short-term political goals and fail to realize the strategic importance of projects that will bear fruit in the medium or long term. Non-profit organizations can play a particular role in this connection as facilitators and meditators in the development of public-private partnerships.
Besides including highly relevant content through the contribution of first-class speakers, the summit involved a variety of formats including plenary round table discussions, interactive workshops, break out sessions, short project presentations and, especially important, networking breaks. Networking breaks proved to be a crucial element in the summit. Furthermore networking was already brought into play before the New Cities Summit through the use of a social network tool, which allowed participants to upload their CVs and photos and link to their linkedin profiles. This platform allowed for participants to get in contact with each other, arrange for meetings, etc. before the summit. This made a huge difference in terms of facilitating contact and exchange amongst participants.