Naureen Kabir

Building Flexible, Inclusive and Dynamic Cities: Reflections from the 2013 New Cities Summit in São Paulo – WITH VIDEO

The New Cities Foundation team is back from São Paulo after hosting the New Cities Summit 2013, which drew some 800 people from 29 countries. We gathered together the most brilliant urban leaders, academics, global CEOs, technology experts and up-and-coming innovators for two intense days of debate, discussion and information sharing.

The event took place at Ibirapuera Park in the heart of São Paulo, the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere. With its diverse cultural venues, running tracks, cafes and play areas, the park was a fitting location for our discussions on The Human City, the theme chosen for this year’s event.

Upon arrival in São Paulo, my colleagues and I were struck by the incredible energy of the city and the positive attitude of its citizens. Fernando Haddad, the Mayor of São Paulo, captured this spirit in his opening address, in which he also tackled some of the major challenges that São Paulo, like many other mega cities, is facing. He discussed the resurgence of cities and their centrality in producing culture and knowledge, arguing that a human city is one in which citizens can have “face-to-face meetings.” And he identified one of our key challenges as “making the most of our time in a productive way.” You can view his speech in its entirety below.

Mayor Haddad’s opening address set the scene for an intense two days of discussion about how we can make cities more efficient, dynamic, creative, just and inclusive – and altogether more human. The speakers offered thought-provoking ideas, models and suggestions for improving our cities, many of which involved incredibly advanced principles and methods.

For example, Rand Hindi, one of the urban innovators represented in our What Works talk series, offered a mind-boggling vision of how our cities can be transformed by technology (video below). He explained how predictive modeling has the capacity to solve perennial urban frustrations, such as congestion on the commute home from work. What would cities be like if all citizens could predict the most opportune moment to leave to catch their bus or metro home, and be guaranteed a seat? And what if public transport companies could predict capacity and plan for the future more efficiently? For Rand Hindi and his Paris-based company, Snips, these innovations hold the potential to transform cities into more human, enjoyable and productive places to live, play and work.

However, as Hindi noted in an interview on Monocle radio, innovation has to be integrated with the right policies, in order for cities to reap the benefits. This notion, that big changes can only happen if different sectors work in harmony, provided the backbone of our event, echoing the New Cities Foundation’s belief that collaboration and information sharing is the best way to shape better cities.

Our Summit offered insight into some of the most exciting mega projects currently happening on our planet, such Fahd Al Rasheed‘s vision for the King Abdullah Economic City, a brand new city in the heart of Saudi Arabia, to micro-apartments in New York designed by Eric Bunge, offering a creative solution to the shortage of appropriate and affordable housing for lifestyles in cramped and expensive big cities. Sessions also looked to the future, predicting how we will live, work and participate in urban management – with a glimpse at co-working spaces and civic engagement initiatives.

Our closing plenary, Include – chaired by Ben Hecht of Living Cities – brought us back to one of the most crucial and too often neglected issues: the issue of inclusivity and equality in cities of the world. In contrast to some of the earlier sessions, Include reminded us that while we discuss high-tech developments and solutions, many urban dwellers around the world still lack access to basic human needs such as clean water. Aromar Revi, Director of the Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Bangalore, urged us all to think about whether utilities such as an adequate water supply, as well as internet connection, should be entitlements for all, and if so, who will provide them in future cities. Alfredo Brillembourg, of the Institute of Urban Design, ETH Zurich, also warned of the dangers of rebuilding old cities, which, if not done carefully, can threaten their complexity and remove their “texture and connectivity.” He identified the huge need to redefine our future cities, and highlighted that while this may be a challenge, this is in fact a “huge opportunity.”

Time and again, our speakers emphasized how creativity is the key to solving recurring problems and seizing opportunities when building or re-building our cities. In his keynote, Daniel Libeskind stressed the importance of “building creative freedom” into city masterpieces, and to allow certain imperfections. The famous Brazilian chef Alex Atala highlighted how cuisine need not be a thing of the elite, and that it can lead to social inclusion, offering education and a career path for underprivileged youths; Mayor Mike Rawlings emphasized the role of entertainment, sports, arts and culture in shaping the success of cities such as Dallas.

Our Summit closed with the announcement of our AppMyCity! Prize winner: Colab from Recife, Brazil. The Brazilian app is designed to bring citizens closer to civic management systems. They received USD $5,000 to further develop the app.

This year’s Summit challenges and opportunities will now feed into the New Cities Foundation’s wider work as the year continues. And they will also inspire us as we build our program for next year’s Summit. As announced by Mayor Rawlings at a press conference in São Paulo, the New Cities Summit 2014 will take place in Dallas, Texas. The dates will be June 17-19, and the venue, the Dallas Arts District, a major hub of creativity in North Texas.

Videos from our Summit sessions are available online – and a number of the highlights mentioned in this article are posted below. There are also plenty of photos available on our Facebook page. You can read some of our key media coverage here.

Mayor Fernando Haddad – Opening Keynote – New Cities Summit 2013

Rand Hindi, Founder and CEO, Snips – What Works

Eric Bunge, Principal, nArchitects – What Works

Eric van den Broek, Co-founder, Mutinerie Coworking – What Works

Daniel Libeskind – Keynote Address – New Cities Summit 2013

Mayor Rawlings of Dallas and John Rossant announce the 2014 New Cities Summit location

AppMyCity! – New Cities Summit 2013

Closing Plenary: Include – New Cities Summit 2013

infrastructure, transportation