New Cities Summit 2013: ‘The Human City’

We are living through the most rapid and significant phase of urbanization in human history. By 2030, more than 60% of the world’s population – 5 billion people – will live in cities. To understand and act upon this mega trend, the New Cities Foundation hosts the New Cities Summit, the leading global platform for urban innovation and exchange. Each year, the Summit gathers 1,000 of the world’s brightest thinkers and decision-makers for action-oriented debate, information sharing and problem solving. São Paulo is the vibrant location of this year’s event. The theme this year: The Human City, placing the individual and the community at the heart of discussions on our urban future. 
How will this urban planet alter the human experience? For ‘We the Urban People’, what specific issues can we grapple with today to ensure that tomorrow’s metropolis is a positive place to live and work? 
To find out more about the we interviewed John Rossant, founder and chairman of the New Cities Foundation. Interview after the break.

What is the mission of the New Cities Foundation?

The New Cities Foundation works with its global members – public authorities, architects and urban planners, companies, innovators, researchers and technologists — to help ensure that 21st century cities are dynamic, sustainable, just and creative. I think that all of us in the Foundation believe strongly that new and more innovative solutions must be found to make future cities real centers of dynamism and excitement for all inhabitants, rather than dismal and dystopic realities.

Why did you decide to (re)focus your career to start the New Cities Foundation?

I have always been fascinated by cities : after all, I was born and grew up in Manhattan, in the center of one of the world’s great cities, New York. I was certainly influenced by my late uncle, the architect and urban planner James Rossant. He was the key planner behind Reston, Virginia, which in the mid-60’s was one of first planned urban communities in the United States – Reston’s mission was to revolutionize post-World War II concepts of mixed commercial/residential land use in the U.S.

In the mid-1990’s, I began to see that the massive and historically unprecedented migration to cities in the developing world – in China, India and the Middle East – would be one of the defining characteristics of the new century. If we are to survive and thrive as a human race, we simply must make sure that cities, small and large, are places that can help improve the human condition.

What are the biggest challenges for today’s cities?

Where do I start ? The challenges are multiple and extremely complex, and touch on almost every aspect of contemporary human society. How do you ensure 21st century cities are inclusive, and not simply vibrant places for a small and privileged minority of wealthy people ? How to ensure that access to health care is adequate ? How can 21st century cities avoid becoming ecological disaster zones ? How to make sure that medium-sized cities and greenfield cities can be culturally and aesthetically attractive to their populations ?

Indeed, one of the attractions of working in this field is that it touches on so many levels of human activity and interaction. Of course, the challenges which a faces, for example, are different in order and magnitude to the challenges facing a greenfield city in China or, say, a city like Helsinki. But one of the fascintating and important aspects of urban development in our new century is that no one really has the right set of answers and that answers can come from anywhere. Bogota, for example, has worked out a highly innovative approach to public transport, which North American cities like New York are learning from.

What are the main topics that will be discussed at the summit?

The overall theme of this year’s Summit in Sao Paulo is ‘The Human City’. I think it is clear that the extreme pace of urbanization – with two million people every week becoming urban dwellers – is transforming how we live and interact as human beings. So we have divided discussions at the Summit into the following themes : Play, Build, Participate and Include. We hope that this will address the question of how urbanization and cities will change our lives as citizens and as professionals, as families and as friends, as producers, as travelers and as thinkers. We are looking at the opportunities we can we seize today to ensure that tomorrow’s metropolis is a positive place to live and work.

What is the importance of sharing information about how cities are developing today?

Information sharing is vitally important. Finding scaleable solutions for cities is essential. This is what drives the New Cities Foundation’s Urban (co)LAB task forces around the world, where we bring together our members to work on important urban challenges. In the Santa Marta community in Rio de Janeiro, for example, the New Cities Foundation is working with GE, the Municipality of Rio and other partners on a highly innovative project to vastly improve the access of previously under-served communities to health care – and doing it in a very cost-effective way through new and cutting-edge technologies. This is a scaleable solution which can, we hope, be rolled out to other cities around the world.

Which regions of the world face the biggest challenges in terms of cities?

Every region of the world faces great urban challenges, and not least Latin America – which is probably the most urbanized continent in the world. Clearly, the sheer scale of urbanization in China and India, in particular, where hundreds of millions of people will become urban dwellers over the next decade, is in a sense in a class of its own.

Cite: "New Cities Summit 2013: ‘The Human City’" 31 May 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Aug 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=381014>

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