The New Cities Foundation: Building a better future for two thirds of the world’s people

| June 30, 2016 | 0 Comments
Participants mingle at last year's New Cities Summit 2015, which took place in Jakarta. (Photo: © New Cities Foundation)

Participants mingle at last year’s New Cities Summit 2015, which took place in Jakarta. (Photo: © New Cities Foundation)

From remote antiquity until the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, people organized themselves in villages and cities through the filters of shared ethnicity, language and religion. By the mid-20th Century, with colonial inheritances largely obsolete, modern nations became a primary point of reference for a person’s identity. Today, however, more than half the world’s population is urban, with millions of people moving into cities every month. In fact, analysts predict that two thirds of the world’s population will be urban by 2050. These new urbanites identify first with the city in which they live, and second with the nation in which that city finds itself.
Added to this massive transition are several factors worth considering, including the unpredictable, large-scale dislocation and resettlement of millions as a result of conflict; climate change jeopardizing coastal cities; the exponential growth of vehicular traffic on outmoded streets and highways; a need for “cities from scratch” to prevent sprawl and consequent inefficiencies and many other market and social forces. The end result is that the exploding population of city-dwellers is unfiltered as never before, mixing ethnicities, languages and religions with unpredictable results. In some contexts, prejudice is exacerbated, while in others, tolerance is bred.
Charting the way forward is no simple matter, since national governments find it challenging to move quickly, weighed down as they are by laws, statutes and conventions, outmoded infrastructure, competing interests and entrenched bureaucracies. Cities, by contrast, have no choice but to strive for agility to address real-time demands. Some cities have begun adopting “night mayors” to cope with the accelerated and extended hours of urban living and we can expect an increasingly demanding public as denser population centres compel new approaches to services.
The New Cities Foundation (NCF), created in 2010, is an independent non-profit organization, funded by its members and partners, with a mission to shape a better urban future for all, and is alert to all of these challenges. The foundation is incorporated in Geneva and its head office is in Montreal, with smaller offices in Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Zurich. NCF conducts pragmatic research on solutions to challenges facing cities, launches initiatives to drive urban progress and builds, empowers and convenes a global network in support of its goals. The foundation convened the leading events on urban innovation, including the annual New Cities Summit, the latest edition of which took place in Montreal from June 21 to 23. In all of its activities, the foundation works with entrepreneurs and leaders from business, government, academia, civil society, the media and the arts. And it includes some of the most forward-thinking companies that share a passion for the future of our cities.
Among the foundation’s initiatives is a new program identifying 10 “global urban innovators” (GUI) each year. Typically startups focused on solving problems facing urban dwellers, these GUIs are selected from a crowded field of entrepreneurs. We believe the GUIs offer the best chances of success in improving the lives of city dwellers, and the foundation offers them a visible platform from which to offer scalable solutions. This year’s crop includes WeCyclers, a collective in Nigeria offering redeemable points in exchange for recycled materials. Spacehive, the world’s first civic crowd-funding platform, connects people with places available for all kinds of social interaction. And Foodcloud matches food providers with food banks to stem the tide of hunger, having delivered more than two million meals to date.
Expanding cities are driving investment in new solutions. The opportunities afforded by portable computing, networked data and an openness to collaboration presage the potential for a more enlightened and inclusive future for us all. As the New Cities Foundation puts down roots in Canada, seeking partners across Quebec and beyond, we are excited by the prospect of gaining from the instincts, expertise and accomplishments of new partners in Montreal, and, together, helping find our way towards more tolerant, efficient and livable cities.

Maxwell L. Anderson is executive director of the New Cities Foundation.

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Maxwell L. Anderson is executive director of the New Cities Foundation.

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