From May 14th-May 16th, participants from across the world are meeting in Paris for the inaugural New Cities Summit. Organised by the New Cities Foundation, a non-profit Swiss institution dedicated to improving the quality of life in the 21st-century global city. The conference brings together leading thinkers and practitioners in the field of urban development, to discuss the challenges presented by our urban future and moot possible solutions to them.
The conference is being held in the CNIT conference centre at La Défense, Paris, and as a specialist in optimistic, forward-thinking news and opinions on the urban environment, Urban Times has been invited to cover events.
Live coverage of the conference can be received by following the @UT_BuiltEnv Twitter account. For those who missed it, here is a roundup of the first day.
The opening plenary, titled Defining Urbanites: how we became a city species and why it matters, brought together a broad selection of panelists representing the diversity of perspectives present at the conference.
In attendance were Wim Elfrink, Executive Vice President of Cisco; Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman of Hindustan Construction Group; Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver; and Geoffrey West, Distinguished Professor and former President of the Santa Fe Institute.
Over the course of the plenary, three clear themes emerged:
- The importance of communications technology for urban development.
- The need for new solutions for sustainability, and an ever increasing rate of innovation to cope with exponentially rising population pressure.
- The value of public-private partnership for generating financial, social & infrastructural resources necessary for our urban future.
The summit resumed with another plenary session, titled Portrait of an Urban World: facts, figures and the future. It entailed a lively panel discussion between Ricky Burdett, Director for the LSE CITIES programme; Greg Clark, UK Minister for Decentralisation and Cities; world renowned architect Daniel Libeskind; and Hans Vestberg, President and CEO of Ericsson.
The debate was moderated in bombastic style by Richard Quest, whose eccentric manner of address lies somewhere between Jeremy Paxman and Jeremy Kyle. Most notable in the discussion was insistence on the part of Burdett that cities were the hardest to live in for those deprived of a say in their design; marking the first time that under-representation of marginal urban communities was mentioned by speakers.
A late afternoon session on “Navigating the Meta-City”, run by Frog Design, began with an impressive conceptual rendering of HUD-style data layering as it might be implemented in the urban environment. The session invited participants to collectively brainstorm ideas on the integration of technology into the urban fabric: a promising brief, which was sadly undermined by one facilitator who took the opportunity to polemicise violently against the entire concept of ‘smart buildings’, to general bemusement from participants.
Overall, the summit has without a doubt brought together many bright stars in the field of urbanism, albeit mostly representatives of the business, academic or technocratic classes thus far. Today’s session, which includes sessions on urban justice and modern utopias, looks set to bring the focus down to the level of the individual urban citizen: a voice to which we must attach high importance if we are to ensure equitable urban futures.