Fundamental trends such as climate change, technological advances and the shift in economic powers globally are changing the playing field for cities worldwide. This is particularly the case as urban development objectives shift from pure wealth creation towards more complex and demanding well-being objectives, so called good growth for cities.
This topical issue has been the focus for a two year research project involving Euricur, PwC and IHS and culminated in a report launched at a joint conference hosted in cooperation with Erasmus University Rotterdam, the City of Rotterdam and the Global Urban Competitiveness Project.
The iUrban conference provided an opportunity to showcase some of the 24 new generation urban transformational projects which formed the case studies for our report - ‘Innovative city strategies for delivering sustainable competitiveness’. Specifically, the research looked at how different cities are seeking to foster ‘sustainable competitiveness’: a city’s ability to keep balanced growth and development over time while fostering social cohesion and environmental quality.
This is now one of the most relevant urban development challenges. The fascinating stories of Singapore and Melbourne focused attention on the liveability aspects of development, with Singapore's liveability underpinned by integrated master planning and development as well as dynamic urban governance. Although as one panellist commented there is also the equally important challenge of how to move ‘from liveable to loveable cities’.
There was a special focus during the conference proceedings on the capabilities and enablers that are needed to ‘make things happen’ in our cities. Collaboration in particular was seen as key. But this does need time to form and deepen the requisite relationships, which is not always available - agility is needed as well to anticipate and adapt to changing circumstances.
The power of partnerships and agile delivery models was also a subject of some of the panel debates. The so-called ‘penta-helix’ received particular attention – that is, the coming together of citizens, not-for-profits and universities as well as public and private sector organisations to deliver outcomes for cities and specific projects. And this is not just a question of centralisation OR decentralisation of the powers to make things happen: rather, as the conference moderator Fons Trompenaars put it, what should be centralised to allow for more decentralisation?
Other conference sessions highlighted the importance of city context too. We heard Professor Saskia Sassen of Columbia University who emphasised the importance of the specialised differences between cities and how cities are part of different 'circuits' where their peers are now global not just local.
We also heard much comment at the conference on the importance of citizen involvement particularly using digital technology to acquire insights, to engage citizens and so to ‘open source neighbourhoods’. "Urban competitiveness cannot be left to the experts” according to Professor Sassen.
The case studies of Dublinked, Helsinki Infoshare and Manchester were especially instructive in this regard. For instance, the open data initiative from Dublin - Dublinked - was led not from the IT function, but Dublin's unit for public engagement. But there was also a warning – to avoid the risk of losing valuable city data to outsourced suppliers. This needs to be carefully specified when running public procurements.
Finally the importance of leadership was emphasised, but distributed within and across organisations and sectors. Successful leaders have the ‘propensity and competence to help cities and citizens reconcile dilemmas for better sustainable performance’ according to the conference moderator.
The tag line of the conference had been ‘iUrban…inspire, innovate, implement’ - it certainly lived up to its billing!
For further outcomes of the meeting please have a look at: