JWR Articles: Commentary - CityAge: The Innovation City Day 2 (Featured speaker: Philip Enquist) - July 21, 2012 id="543337086">

CityAge: The Innovation City Day 2

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Quenching the thirst for innovation

Day 2 of CityAge was a fascinating mix of the ongoing quest for political realignment (preferably forging “new arrangements” amongst federal/provincial/municipal—curiously, school boards never entered the equation—governing entities that positively avoids the quagmire of constitutional fiddling), exponential growth of cities driving GDP more than countries per se (thus cities demanding more authority/control; not a soul suggested that the huge increase in global GDP could well cause the next truly global conflict when Mother Nature finally yells “Uncle!” and shuts off the potable water tap—that scenario already making the rounds of fictional cinema: cross reference below) and a large measure of hope that within the next century saner minds will prevail and find the intestinal fortitude to erase arbitrary political boundaries in order to plan/structure future expansion, development and—accordingly, health—around restoring nature’s bounty rather than annihilating it with senseless jurisdictional squabbling (Philip Enquist’s descriptive and marvellously succinct video about The Great Lakes Century—poignantly accompanied by the “Shepherd’s hymn” movement from Beethoven’s beautifully green “Pastorale” Symphony No. 6 in F Major spoke volumes).

Still, by conference end, it was clearer than pristine fresh water that it will take every city’s citizenry to muster the will, determination and unselfish wisdom to change harmful behaviours (from voting to walking to facing each other without a cosmetic mask) if our at-risk planet might return to a less perilous state before Melancholia removes that necessity (cross-reference below).

Who will have the courage to lead this sea change without the pre-measured comfort of favourable polling results?

With so much material to digest and little consensus to take home, let it suffice here to share ten thoughts from the hundreds offered thanks to the generous, largely unbridled, discussion of ideas and viewpoints from the panelists, speakers and delegates.

Stop the press: News item (Toronto). Another slab of concrete fell from the Gardiner Expressway onto Bathurst overnight causing traffic problems but, fortunately this time, no injuries or property damage.

  1. Karen Leibovici (President, Federation of Canadian Municipalities) spoke passionately about her association’s Target 2014: “We need to continue upgrading our ‛Operating System’ and keep the infrastructure funding coming after the federal stimulus program winds up.”
  2. Jaana Remes, from the McKinsey Global Institute gave a presentation filled with historical snapshots of city development and projections of future growth where developing countries (notably China, Brazil and India) will outweigh and outperform North America and Europe on many fronts from population to GDP. “There are now 65 million more urbanities a year,” she reported.
  3. “In the [Canadian] constitution, cities are creatures of the provinces,” reminded Maytree Foundation Chair, Alan Broadbent, while explaining the difficulty of getting long-term funding commitments for urban projects from senior levels of government.
  4. Lorne Braithwaite, CEO, Build Toronto stated uncategorically that “Money [largely private investment] will always find a good project,” echoing Day 1’s venture capital notion that if the ROI can be demonstrated, investors will follow.
  5. Extolling the virtues of immigration (especially to Toronto where ~50% of Canada’s newcomers land annually), Broadbent also cautioned that “Immigrant settling can’t afford to live near work” so that affordable housing ought to be more readily available in the Innovation City.
  6. From the Centre for Urban Science and Progress in NYC, director Steve Koonin praised the value of big data as a vital tool for urban solutions because “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” He went on the say that while on a three-year stint on the “inside,” he observed that “government is entirely tactical and event driven,” making the urban change agenda—even when supported by empirical evidence—all the more difficult to achieve.
  7. “Our society has devalued skilled trades,” offered University of Toronto president, David Naylor as the challenges of developing a large enough pool of skilled labour—particularly for the North—was on the table.
  8. Moments later, Arvind Gupta (CEO and Chief Scientific Officer, Mitacs) reinforced that notion: “The 21st century will be defined by our ability to exploit knowledge [and] attract, train and retrain a sufficient workforce.”
  9. During Enquist’s truly visionary presentation as to how the Great Lakes could evolve between now and 2110, he gave many examples of how to reduce the inordinate amount of pollutants in, above and below the incredible natural asset but none made more sense than replacing short-haul flights to the major cities near its 11,000 mile shoreline with high-speed rail for the 50 million inhabitants. We can only hope that the boundaries will vanish, but it will likely take the leadership capabilities of a decidedly vanishing breed (perhaps extinct?) of politicians who are willing to do the right thing without pollsters telling them it will be “safe” to do so.
  10. Finally, since it appears to Tom Rand (Managing Director, MaRS Cleantech Fund) that it will be impossible to ever completely replace liquid fuels with other sources (notably wind and solar) “it has to be behavioural change” to make a significant difference.

But with millions more city dwellers invading metropolitan centres around the planet—many of those giddy with the prospect of doubling their income and finally owning a refrigerator, how will it be explained to them that the energy gorgers in the “developed” world should not be emulated but disdained. No doubt it will take a calamity of gigantic proportions to bring about the changes necessary (and already known) if the planet is to survive the greatest threat to its existence: human nature. JWR

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Featured speaker - Philip Enquist
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