CityLab 2016 was the fourth annual summit on urban innovation hosted by the Aspen Institute, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The event took place in Miami (US) end of October 2016 and brought together more than 500 global city leaders—40 mayors, plus urban theorists, city planners, scholars, architects, and entrepreneurs—for a series of dialogues around the challenges and emerging ideas that are shaping the urban agenda worldwide.
CityLab 2016 provided an unique reflection time combined with ideas speed dating on how cities, either represented by their mayors or innovators, are tackling challenges such as the affordable housing crisis, sprawl, transition to new technologies, including driverless cars, crime, refugees. Being able to put these issues in the local context for a global audience brought a sense that impactful changes are possible even in the most troublesome environments and it comes down to sensible leadership and endurance.
Noteworthy remarks include mayor Enrique Penalosa of Bogota (BR) on why in his new mandate he is taking a strong approach on crime, Seleta Reynolds of the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation on how driverless cars are reigniting the debate on public transit as a public good and the uncertain future of “stable” local revenue streams from speeding tickets and parking or mayor Buddy Dyer of the city of Orlando on how to lead through the tragedy that the city and its communities experienced this year. A complete series of the dialogues can be watched here.
The reality of European cities was summed up by the posters available in the exhibition area prepared by McKinsey & Company, highlighting the fact that 47% of shrinking cities are in Western Europe. MKBT work is mainly focused on Eastern European cities, so we can add both some additional numbers and nuances. Apart of the dramatic recession of most cities, as a direct consequence of forced urbanization through industrialization, Eastern European countries are the only ones that experienced a constant loss of population between 1955-2015. And according to the UN’s World Population Prospects by 2050 Bulgaria will lose 28 percent of its population, Romania is expected to lose 22 percent of its population, followed by Ukraine (down 22 percent), Moldova (20 percent), Bosnia and Herzegovina (19 percent), Latvia (19 percent), Lithuania (17 percent), Serbia (17 percent), Croatia (16 percent) and Hungary (16 percent).
This significant present and future population changes are not only a result of demographic trends, but also of significant migration in search of better socio-economic opportunities. Corroborated with high home ownership which hampers work mobility especially for low income households and insecure tenure rights for informal and social housing, many cities in Romania that we have come to know well are drifting on both how to accept their new condition as a shrinking community and welcome all their remaining residents.
Similarly to ideas bounced at CityLab which impress on how talented people brought them to shape and into action, we see the challenges of Eastern European cities as disguised opportunity, a push to rethink not in terms of growth, but rather of the core capabilities which make some cities rise and other fall.
*Anamaria Vrabie wishes to thank The Aspen Institute for the kind invitation and support to join CityLab2016.
Photo credits: Atlantic LIVE