Highlights from the New Cities Summit

More than 800 thought leaders from around the world came together this week in the Dallas Arts District for the third annual Global New Cities Summit. The event, organized by the New Cities Foundation, brought entrepreneurs, elected officials, academics, design professionals and journalists together to discuss the topic of re-imagining cities. I was lucky enough to get an invitation to attend compliments of Emma Stewart at Autodesk, a group I initially connected with back during my days as a member of HDR's Sustainable Solutions Leadership Team and who we are continuing to collaborate with here at VERDUNITY. 

Props to Mayor Rawlings

Some serious props need to be given to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who was able to bring not just the New Cities Summit to Dallas, but also the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting, which begins today. I've attended national conferences in numerous cities across the U.S., and they tend to be held in places that are either a destination lots of people want to visit (Seattle, Boston and NYC come to mind), or a place that's on the leading edge of a new trend (like a Detroit). It is extremely exciting and motivating to have some of the world's best and brightest innovators and leaders of our country's cities here in Dallas IN THE SAME WEEK. Downtown Dallas has been buzzing with activity this week, folks. AIGA DFW and PechaKucha Dallas took advantage of this opportunity and organized a PK event last night around the theme "Drawing New Landscapes". The event was keynoted by PechaKucha founder Mark Dytham and had twelve speakers presenting, PK style (20 slides, 20 seconds each). VERDUNITY's green infrastructure strategy guru Mikel Wilkins was one of the people invited to speak. Mikel will probably be writing about that experience as well.

Notable Quotes and Takeaways

The summit agenda was packed full of quality speakers and short, panel-style sessions. The full program is available on the summit website, and I believe they are going to be posting the video from all of the sessions soon as well. I'd encourage you to browse the program and watch the videos from sessions that appeal to you. I can't speak for every session, but all but one of the sessions I attended were informative and worth the time. I won't say which one was a dud, but if you read enough of the Dallas media coverage, you'll probably figure it out.

The coolest thing about this particular conference for me was that it exposed me to cultures, perspectives, and organizations that I would have otherwise not have known about, or at least had to work really hard to find and meet. It was a mash-up of education, culture, interests and ages like I've never seen before. Dallas had its fair share of representation on panels and in attendance, but speakers came from places like Brazil, Saudi Arabia, London, Toronto and more. My personal favorite was Jaime Lerner from Brazil. The guy was really engaging, and an absolute quote machine.

Speaking of quotes and thought provoking ideas, there were plenty. Look up #NCS2014 on twitter and you'll find all kinds of great stuff. Here are some of the comments and quotes that resonated with me the most:

  • The economy of the future will revolve around mega-cities and urban centers. It didn't seem to matter whether it was someone with a health and wellness interest, an infrastructure angle, a smart-technology background or a placemaking perspective - pretty much everyone in attendance agreed that cities are becoming the hubs of the global economy.
  • Commitment to culture and art. In some countries, culture and art are EVERYTHING. In the U.S., culture and are are an afterthought in most cities. Several presenters spoke about investing the majority of their resources in walkable places and culture, and a minimal amount in road infrastructure. It was an obvious contrast to the approach we take here. We are doing better at creating more quality places in Dallas, and the attendees were quick to point that out, but we need to go beyond building a district or a park, and integrate culture and art throughout our cities, communities and neighborhoods. That is what allows residents, businesses and visitors to fall in love with a city to the point they never want to leave and go out of their way to recruit others to move there.
  • Gap between smart technology and implementation in the design and building fields. There's some great technology being developed for everything from city management "dashboards" that looked like an airplane cockpit, which Ericsson presented, to apps that enable citizens to further engage with their cities. Emma Stewart was part of a technology panel which I attended, and when I met with her later, one of the topics we discussed was how to get applicable technology into the hands of the design community. More on that discussion and our efforts with Autodesk and Impact Infrastructure in a future post.
  • Police and Enforcement. You need to have a balance between investing dollars to build places that police themselves versus spending dollars on additional enforcement resources. David Brown, the Dallas Police Chief had this great quote: "Police must establish a workable relationship with neighborhood residents. It's possible to spend too much of a city's budget on public safety. If a rec center is cut because the police budget is fat and greedy, then what you're left with is a safe, dull city".

  • Healthy Communities. Joel Allison, CEO of Baylor Healthcare System was one of the better panelists as well. I'm hoping to be able to connect with him at some point. "It's not that obesity runs in your family; it's that nobody in your family runs." 

  • Cars vs People. "Focusing solely on moving people as fast as possible in and out of areas is outdated. That's what we've been doing for 100 years. That should not be the primary variable in designing cities." ~ Alex Krieger, Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Design.

  • Cars vs People, Part 2. I mentioned that Jaime Lerner from Brazil was my favorite speaker. He managed to compare cars to cigarettes and mothers-in-law within a matter of minutes with these gems: "The car is the cigarette of the 21st century", and "Cars are like mothers-in-law. you have to have a good relationship with her, but you can't let her run your life." Greatness.

It was refreshing to meet so many people who share the same goal of making great places that are fiscally and environmentally resilient. It was equally cool to have these same people ask about VERDUNITY and our goals. A frequent response was, "wow, engineers that get it! That's great, but how in the heck are you staying in business doing that in Texas?" As you can see from the comments at the end of this article in the Dallas Morning News, we have our work cut out for us, but we're getting there, one person, project and community at a time.

~ Kevin