Cities, Policies, Technology and the Mayors Challenge

“The strong mayor form … is in some ways a miniature presidency”, Clarence N. Stone

Some recent articles in the press made me think of the need to more “healthy” cities in terms of economy, environment, and society. Our planet is more urbanized than ever. Cities accommodate more people today than ever before. In cities there are concentrated the most pressing social and economic dilemmas. But on the other hand, successful cities are also, more than ever, the keys of national and transnational economies, as stated in Huffington Post , and in Financial Time. They are places of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The report from the McKinsey Global Institute “Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class” points out that cities are the substantial consumers and eventually they consume energy and produce greenhouse gases. That highlight cities as a central factor to the project for global environmental sustainability.

The former Mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg through Bloomberg Philanthropies launched in 2012 for the first time the “Mayors Challenge”. A competition addressed to American cities with more than 100.000 inhabitants which were facing complex problems with fewer and fewer resources. In 2013 the “Mayors Challenge in Europe 2013-2014”  was announced. An amount of 9 million euros will be awarded to the 5 winners.

Each city should define a clear problem and a solution must be proposed “that is as concrete as it is compelling”. The ideas should be “bold and creative and should include a fresh new approach to solving a problem in the city”. The ideas will be evaluated according to their: vision, meaningful impact, ability of implementation and transferability.

During April, the 21 finalists from 11 countries were announced:

  1. Amsterdam, Netherlands  for Youth Unemployment
  2. Athens, Greece for Civic Engagement
  3. Barcelona, Spain for Aging (Improving quality of life and limiting social isolation)
  4. Bologna, Italy for Youth Unemployment
  5. Bristol, United Kingdom for Health/Anti-obesity
  6. Brno, Czech Republic for Public Safety/Civic Engagement
  7. Cardiff, United Kingdom for Economic Development
  8. Florence, Italy for Economic Development
  9. Gdansk, Poland for Civic Engagement
  10. Kirklees, United Kingdom for Social Capital
  11. Krakow, Poland for Transportation
  12. Lisbon, Portugal for Energy
  13. London, United Kingdom for Public Health
  14. Madrid, Spain for Energy
  15. Schaerbeek, Belgium for Energy
  16. Sofia, Bulgaria for Civic Engagement
  17. Stara Zagora, Bulgaria for Economic Development
  18. Stockholm, Sweden for Environment
  19. The Hague, Netherlands for Civic Engagement
  20. Warsaw, Poland for Transportation/Accessibility
  21. York, United Kingdom for Government Systems

Finalists will next attend Bloomberg Ideas Camp, a two-day conference convening municipal leaders from each city as well as leading innovation, policy, and programming experts who will partner with and push teams to strengthen their ideas. Ideas Camp is planned to occur in Berlin in June.

Considering the fact that 180 European cities entered the contest, it is easy to understand the need for funding in important issues. Amongst the defined problem, the major issues of cities can be recognized: tackling the youth unemployment, the need for economic development, civic engagement, public safety, public health, energy, transportation/ accessibility, government systems, environment, aging. I was really surprised as the mayors and their teams were able to outline the needs and problems of today’s society, beyond the standard problems but also by the originality of the solutions.  What governs the finalist’s proposals is the embracement of all forms of technologies. We have seen technology as a tool for improving public health (London), as a way to have a personalized energy audit (Schaerbeek), as a mean to re-install faith in local democracy (Gdansk), as a method to solve top city problems (York), etc.

Urban policies in practice remains largely focused on the physical environment, and not on socio-economic facts. The only way to move towards is to adapt newly available channels and technologies. “The internet of things, the big data, and the social media should result in more responsive planning, better service delivery, and broader citizen engagement” as stated by Ben Hecht, President & CEO of Living Cities. They should redefine transportation, human health, well-being, consumption of energy, governance in order to tackle the problems of the 21st century cities. The Mayors Challenge is addressed to this cities and the revitalising thing was the fresh, modern, innovative approach of the solutions proposed by the mayors as “miniature presidents”!

Are the proposed solutions of the Challenge all effective and transferable? What do you think?

I really don’t know, I will wait and see, but I am now sure that politicians and their teams do have fresh and innovative ideas, based on the contribution of the public who easily states its opinion and contributes in solving problems/ planning/ taking decisions and the contribution of technicians that provide the means to do all these.

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About avgivassi

PhD student| MSc Urban Planner| Surveyor Engineer National Technical University of Athens School of Surveying Engineering Sustainable Mobility Unit (SMU)
This entry was posted in Beyond planning, Planning, city, and society and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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