Presenting the Festival of Ideas for the New City
Something is in the collective air—or rather, mankind is waking up to the reality that our population has doubled to seven billion since 1960, of which half have migrated to cities. Everyone, including the New Museum, is talking about cities. And you know it’s reached an apotheosis when the 2012 Ted Prize goes not to an individual, but an idea: The City 2.0. There has been a proliferation of conferences, summits, and multi-day seminars that seek to dissect, explore, debate, and imagine the future of the city and how we get there.
A newcomer to the scene, the New Cities Summit convened in Paris from May 14–16 with the aim of “placing the city at the heart of the global discussion.” Go-to urban specialists like Ricky Burdett, Director of LSE Cities and Urban Age, and Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University, brought their charismatic mantras. My theory (which I hope manifests correctly) is if you hear these guys 100 times in a year, something is bound to stick with the policy makers and mayors.
Lisa Phillips and I were asked to present for twelve minutes on the Festival of Ideas for the New City—a collective initiative founded by the New Museum and developed with ten other cultural and academic institutions, and which took place in May 2011. One thing that all the partners agreed upon was the critical importance of creative capital to a vibrant, healthy city, and we were unanimous in our belief that artists and cultural organizations are agents of change, with greater potential to be powerful forces for transformation.
It was an honor to present amongst this peer group and humbling to digest the enormity of the challenges that cities face. But in the two and a half days, with dozens of speakers, culture and the arts were rarely touched upon. Our presentation, along with that of a Portuguese graffiti artist VHILS, felt gratuitous.
This declaration is part of the Ted Prize manifesto for The City 2.0: “The City 2.0 promotes innovation, education, culture, and economic opportunity. The Global Liveability Report produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit ranks 140 cities each year on five factors: stability, healthcare, culture & environment, education, and infrastructure.”
There is no doubt that as we grasp for ways to create a more sustainable future, in which we are both ethical and globally aware, we must also slow down and nourish the soul of the city.