Last week I travelled to London where I joined thought leaders and elected officials from around the globe for the third annual CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges. The purpose of the CityLab conference was “to bring together over 300 global city leaders — mayors, plus urban theorists, city planners, scholars, architects, and artists — for a series of conversations about urban ideas that are shaping the world’s metro centers”.
What I found unique about this conference was that while the diverse group of speakers and attendees had substantial conversations about such standard urban issues as transportation, public safety and infrastructure, it also considered perhaps less obvious urban concerns such as food access policy and what younger generations are looking for in order to succeed in cities today and in the future. It was exciting to hear these conversations in London because many of them lined up with our MutualCity philosophy at the BNMC. Our MutualCity methodology encourages addressing economic and social issues through a holistic approach that values collaboration. In London, I heard people take on urban issues from various perspectives in order to make the city and our planet better places.
One meeting I sat in on concerned food policy, and it included an eclectic group of about 25 people. Mayors from across the globe (Athens, Greece; Christchurch, New Zealand just to name a couple); leaders from large foundations (Bloomberg, Rockefeller); leaders of NGOs; and Jamie Oliver, a.k.a., the Naked Chef, were among the participants. Listening to these people was fascinating but what amazed me was the passion with which everyone addressed the issue of food policy. The message that became clear from this talk was that what we put in our bodies is not acceptable. (I recall the comment being made that even dog food has higher production standards than human food.) Everyone agreed that the key to refocusing the public’s attention on what we consume is to take bold action and to provide education about the issue in the most transparent way possible. This conversation highlighted even more why a medical campus like ours along with others across the globe need to take the issue of access to healthy food more seriously. At the end of the day if we can be successful in this area, then there will be a triple bottom-line benefit: increased job creation, monetary savings, and most importantly, more people living healthier lives.
The topic of another talk I attended at CityLab concerned millennials and city life. For the first time in many years, Buffalo is witnessing a surge of young adults living in our city and for that generation and the ones behind it, access to technology is essential. Our children now live in a world where data and its analysis are more important than ever and people through enhanced technology have access to just about anything they want, anywhere they want. The physical places we create in our cities — whether they are where one lives, where one works, or where one plays — need to be addressed to meet these rapidly changing times.
The moment in this CityLab talk that was important to me was when Muriel Bowser, a member of Generation X and mayor of Washington D.C., addressed these issues. Her message wasn’t how the next generation needs to fall into line with how older generations have done things. Instead she considered how do we work together to build the right infrastructure to best accommodate people’s lifestyles in the cities today.
Technology is transforming our world in a way that it has made it easier to own fewer things, to work from virtually anywhere; to obtain a wide variety of things on demand, and to live with less. As a result, we need to continue to move forward on how we can build and modify our great cities to meet the changing needs of its citizens. It will take many methods and approaches, but it must be done.
The greatest impression the CityLab conference made on me was that at the core of the thought leaders’ decision making was empathy for their fellow citizens. This gathering to discuss solving global challenges with urban solutions never lost sight of the citizens it was trying to help and, in fact, put those citizens at the center of its focus. The focus was not on what should be done to get the next vote or sell more of their product but on how to improve the quality of life around the globe. If more of our leaders can act from this place they will not only win their elections and increase their bottom lines, but the world will be in a much better place.