Five Takeaways From Last Week's Dallas-Hosted, Internationally Attended New Cities Summit.
Last week, over 800 urban leaders from 51 countries came together in the Dallas Arts District to attend the 2014 New Cities Summit — the international gathering's first visit to North America after having previously been held in Sao Paulo and Paris the last two years.
And, throughout the summit, more than 95 speakers from the public, private, nonprofit and academic sectors took to the stage to discuss this year's chosen theme: “Re-imagining Cities: Transforming the 21st Century Metropolis.”
While the summit provided great opportunities to hear from some of the world's leading minds, it also provided Dallas the chance to put on display some of its own most innovative solutions around problems that all cities are facing.
After having spent both days attending the summit, here are my biggest takeaways.
• After his summit welcome address, Mayor Mike Rawlings, ever the salesman, reminded participants to “spend lots of money in Dallas.” He — along with Maxwell Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art — recruited the Summit to Dallas.
• Fifty percent of the world is under 30 and living in cities. That was the hot statistic of this year's affair — and one repeated multiple times throughout the summit's course. Mpho Franklyn Parks Tau, Mayor of Johannesburg, South Africa, encouraged participants to keep this stat in mind while trying to “solve locally and incorporate globally.” An excellent quote from Parag Khanna, managing partner of The Hybrid Reality Institute, on how to activate that crowd's potential: “Every city needs a system that can transform an idea into a solution.”
• “What is the city but the people?” That Shakespearean quote came courtesy of Dallas' own Catherine Cuelllar, executive director of the Dallas Art District, who cautioned leaders not to lose sight of the human element during a convention so focused on big data and urban design. On a similar note, Ashwin Mahesh, founder of Mapunity, encouraged attendees to focus less on civic problems than the people who can help solve them. His focus was all about organization: “My goal is not to increase solutions, rather to increase the number of problems-solvers that are aware of issues they can help solve.”
• A city can't just be connected or have the right technology. Jaime Lerner, a former governor from Parana, Brazil, told attendees that “a city has no future if it lacks dreams.” With Dallas' latest civic dreams seemingly all centered around a more walkable future, Lerner went on to say the following: “The car is the cigarette of the future. The car is like your mother-in-law. You have to have a good relationship with her, but you can't let her rule your life.”
• Dallas showed well as hosts, thanks to people like Cuellar, Rawlings and chef Chad Houser.. Houser in particular shined, ending the summit with a reminder that attendees continue to dream big. He did so by sharing his own efforts with Cafe Momentum: Three years ago, he started telling people that he wanted “to open up a restaurant with juvenile delinquents and let them play with knives and fire” and now, after working with hundreds of incarcerated youth and raising over a half million dollars, he's on the brink of opening a first Cafe Momentum restaurant in Downtown Dallas this fall.
Much as I hate to say it, I guess it's true after all: Be it through conferences such as the New Cities Summit or just an upscale local restaurant being staffed by juvenile delinquents, it seems big things are happening here in Dallas, indeed.