New Cities Summit 2016 – Day 1 Energizing the Urban Tech Conversation in Montréal
Cities matter, get used to it
A new and powerful wave of urban innovation is taking cities to a new age called Urban Tech. “Cities matter, get used to it” affirmed Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montréal as the fifth edition of the New Cities Summit was launched in the vibrant Quartier des Spectacles, the creative heartbeat of Montréal. Mayor Coderre expressed his fundamental belief that cities are uniquely capable to confront the challenges and leverage the opportunities present in urban populations, setting the tone for an animated day of ideas and exchange.
“The Age of Urban Tech” panel got off to a roaring start. Founder of Competia and moderator Estelle Métayer initiated discussion by framing Urban Tech in three definitions: Technologies bringing urban progress and innovation, technology to make urban lives simpler and smarter, and Urban Tech that makes our cities more equitable and efficient. Chiara Corazza of the Greater Paris Investment Agency was quick to emphasize the dynamic nature of the current urban technological moment, arguing that all cities, even Paris, are changing rapidly in real time. Anil Menon, President of the Smart+Connected Communities project at Cisco put forward the example of Dubai, a city which has become so adept in its use of technology that it can engineer artificial floods, via cloud-seeding, to help meet the city’s need for cooling and green space. While it became vividly clear that the technological possibilities for the city in the 21st century are near boundless, Ivy Taylor, Mayor of San Antonio, perfectly summarized a key theme for the day: as urban technologies expand at a dizzying pace, innovation must remain people-centered.
With new technologies sure to change the physical and social landscapes of our cities, the discussion shifted to “New Urban Lifestyles”. Professor Arun Sundararajan of New York University explained that cities can be very isolating places and, for many city-dwellers, the physical workplace is their centre of interaction. Cities must work to facilitate new areas of social interaction, “we feel social pain from a lack of connectedness in the same way we feel physical pain. It is a physiological need.” Highly engaged with this idea of interaction, a discussion was triggered on how Urban Tech can be used to facilitate trust infrastructures and limit social polarization.
The driving force of Urban Tech and the beneficiary of its outcomes must be the citizens. The Summit conversation turned to how citizens can play a new role in their cities’ energy frameworks. In “People Powered Cities”, Luise Neumann-Cosel described how through her initiative, Vorstand BürgerEnergie Berlin, she seeks to bring ownership of Berlin’s vital electricity grid infrastructure to a citizens’ cooperative.
But what about those who are doing the innovating? How can they be empowered, and in what ways can cities adjust their frameworks to create a better atmosphere for new and creative solutions to their problems? The Summit also provided an influential platform for this year’s class of Global Urban Innovators to pitch their revolutionary startups and social enterprises which use technology to solve some of the most pressing urban challenges in cities around the world. In “Empowering the Innovators” Vincent Ponzo from Columbia Business School discussed the importance of “Entrepreneurial Ecosystems”. The key, he insists, is building from the bottom, incorporating existing skill sets and local institutional knowledge. This sentiment was echoed by Washington Chief Technology Officer Archana Vemulapalli, as she detailed her experiences of using data to leverage local potentials in “Data for the Public Domain.”
The Summit and the city of Montréal was also a hive of activity outside sessions as attendees from the public, private and non-profit sectors interacted in network breaks, debated on the sidelines, and followed-up panels with lively discussion.
With the first day drawing to a close, NewCities Chairman John Rossant surprised attendees with the major closing announcement that the 2017 Edition of the New Cities Summit will take place in South Korea’s new city Incheon, Songdo. As Mayor Coderre declared in opening the Summit, “Tout seul, on va plus vite. Ensemble, on va plus loin!” True to his words, the spirit of community within technological innovation, inclusion and collaboration defined the first day of the New Cities Summit 2016.