When it was announced that the TED prize would for the first time ever be awarded to an idea, not a person, there was an incredible excitement here at Living Cities. On the heels of the Atlantic Cities launching in September 2011and Fast Company’s Co.Exist shortly thereafter in November – it was clear that this idea, The City 2.0, a vision of our urban cores as places of opportunity, innovation, and prosperity, was quickly becoming an aspiration for a much larger and diverse group of participants. Cities have taken center stage and as this week’s TED conference and announcement of the TED prize winner last night revealed, this isn’t just about the idea of a city reimagined but about the power of collective imagination. When we come together to ask, "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail", as DARPA’s Regina Dugan did at TED, we open up new possibilities, refuse to be tyrannized by the past and embrace the challenges of the 21st century.
"At the end of the day, when you talk about the city, you talk about a gathering of people," noted Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes. More than beautiful buildings and elegant transportation systems, cities are centers of innovation because of the people who inhabit them. It is exactly this power to bring together the incredible assets of density and diversity that makes cities so appealing. As Edward Glaeser noted, and others like Candy Chang echoed, “Cities are where we connect and create collaboratively.” The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, knows this and that is why he is moving his company to Downtown Las Vegas where he believes more “serendipitous” interactions or "collisions" occur, sparking new relationships and hence new ideas.
Announcing a new web platform designed to empower citizens to connect with each other to help reshape their cities, thecity2.org, TED Curator Chris Anderson stated that, “This is a global call for collaborative action on one of the biggest issues of our day.” While there is no doubt that the issues facing cities and the solutions created in cities will be important to all of us, no matter where we live, what’s more important perhaps is the issue of collaborative action itself. How do we collectively find solutions to complex things like education, health care and poverty?
At this point it’s common wisdom that no one person, party, or organization can solve the issues we face today alone and that government cannot be the catalyst for transformative change. Yet we still lack effective models of working together. As Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America noted in her TED talk, “We’re not going to fix government until we fix citizenship.” Cities have the attributes to help us do this. So we’re excited about the City 2.0 wining the TED prize not just because it underscores the centrality of vibrant, urban regions for our future, but also because it recognizes the importance and need for new, more dynamic forms of collaboration.
Photo from thecity2.org