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Blog – World Cities Summit

Insights from the World Cities Summit in Singapore, July 2018.

Blog – Local Leadership and Global City Networks Driving Innovation

At last month’s World Cities Summit in Singapore, the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, His Excellency, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, explored the convergence of several key issues creating a ‘perfect storm’ for massive city challenges: poorly managed urbanisation, climate change, disease threats, lack of skills and education, and unequal growth. A constructive few days were spent exploring two related solutions: spinning up new innovations and sharing the solutions across cities globally.

He challenged the audience with the unprecedented scale of this problem by offering two interconnected solutions: 1. spinning up new innovations and 2. sharing the solutions across cities globally.  “We need solutions that can spread from one city to another and from one part of the world to another,” he said.

Global city networks are acting as invaluable platforms to share such innovations, for example: C40, a network of more than 90 cities tackling climate change and driving urban action; 100 Resilient Cities, a network helping cities to be more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges; the 26 ASEAN Smart City network coordinated by the Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore; and India’s Smart City Mission to connect 100 Indian cities to make them citizen friendly and sustainable.  Similarly, the UK government has recognised that impact can be amplified when working through networks and has organised some of its overseas smart city aid to be coordinated through the global prosperity fund.

A quintessential example of sharing between cities highlighted at the Summit was the on-going relationship of Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb and the Vice Mayor of the District of Panama, Raisa Banfield. Both are battling the inclement effects of climate change on their very different cities. They see those challenges as an opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurs to step in and create ’future proof’ cities.

Mayor Aboutaleb has led Rotterdam since 2005 and is the first to be an immigrant, hailing from Morocco, as well as a Muslim.  Deputy Mayor Raisa Banfield is a former environmental activist, who directly links positive social-economic development with environmental protection.

From different backgrounds and representing very different cities, they share similar urban challenges as a result of climate change.

Rotterdam, one of the world’s largest port cities, sits roughly 6 metres below sea level and has faced much adversity in its past. The District of Panama faced a challenge of its own making as the mangroves, that once protected the region from encroaching flood water from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, were largely cleared to make a path for the Panama Canal.

As land erodes, sea levels rise, and rainstorms become more extreme, coupled with economic disparities and poorly managed urbanisation, both cities realised the potential of innovation to offer solutions.

Spinning up New Innovations

Rotterdam has built ‘recessed parks’ that can act as a flooding basin, capturing and slowly releasing flood water back into the ground during heavy rainfall. During periods of normal weather they act as parks and sports arenas.

The District of Panama has looked to Dutch innovation in redesigning the Panama Canal, creating reservoirs that are no longer meant to hold back the water but guide it to more productive and less threatening locations.

Other cities are working with and learning from each other.  Future Cities Catapult is currently working with the American University of Sharjah Enterprises, on a project sponsored by His Highness Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi. His Highness is establishing a world class innovation testbed; the new Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI). As part of the project, a 10-city peer network is being created to learn from other cities on similar journeys.

In India, Future Cities Catapult is working with Joint Secretary Kunal Kumar, the Mission Director for Smart Cities at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, alongside the India National Institute for Urban Affairs, to develop an India National Innovation Hub to advance innovation, improve urban services, and meet the rapidly changing needs of Indian cities.

Sharing the Solutions across Cities Globally

On the stage in Singapore, at the World Cities Summit, Mayor Aboutaleb and Vice Mayor Banfield had an easy banter and comfortable rapport with each other. Indeed, they have shared the stage many times around the world as part of their support for the importance of sharing innovative solutions across cities globally.

Here at Future Cities Catapult, we have recognised the crucial role that city networks can play in enabling cities to develop and share successful innovation solutions as well as take on board lessons learned by others. To support cities in this we recently published a Global Review of smart city strategies, full of relevant case studies and recommendations.

Cities and their leaders all over the world are banning together to address some of the most intractable issues of urbanisation.  There is a growing understanding that if we are to overcome the substantial challenges of urbanisation then one of the most viable solutions is to spin up innovations and scale them globally.


Dr Amy Hochadel is Head of Global Business Growth & Engagement at Future Cities Catapult.

Follow Amy on Twitter @amyhochadel

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