By Jonathan Smales and Matt Dearlove.

“Cities are the defining artefacts of civilization. All the achievements and failings of humanity are here. Civic buildings, monuments, archives and institutions are the touchstones by which our cultural heritage is passed from one generation to the next. We shape the city, then it shapes us.” – John Reader, Cities

We have become a City Planet.

Humanity may be more than 80% urban by mid-century. Every week there are 1.3 million new people in cities. That’s 70 million a year, decade after decade, representing the largest movement of people in human history. Cities have become the natural (and potentially most sustainable) habitat for humankind.

But the world’s cities face both urgent and remarkable challenges – economic, social, environmental and technological. Consider these together and it is clear that these are unlike anything we have seen before. Do the maths: the cumulative effects of demography, migration, the popularity of Western lifestyles, resource-hungry economic growth and their collective impacts on the biosphere, place extraordinary pressures on cities and city infrastructure, communities and economies.

New perspectives, knowledge and methodologies are needed at least as much as new technology…

The scale and pace of these challenges – a new framing of the way we think about cities – demand new types of response. They necessitate inspiring and pragmatic leadership, creativity and innovation; new perspectives, knowledge and methodologies are needed at least as much as new technology; new skills in urban design, real estate and investment, infrastructure economics and engineering, customer service and estate management, and attention to the lovely details that create urban surprise and delight; novel forms of cooperation and communication, tolerance of diversity, even new ethics are required of those who shape city businesses and economies, city fabric and city infrastructure. All of which lead ultimately to consideration of the way we ought to live and the way we choose to live in cities across the world from London to Sao Paulo, Johannesburg to Qatar, Mumbai to Shenzen, Perth to Nairobi and how the re-design and management of cities can support these realities and desires.

These urgent and remarkable challenges are also, of course, a great opportunity. Cities have always been the crucibles of creativity and the engines of our economies and prosperity, via what economist Ed Glaeser calls, “the collaborative chains of entrepreneurship” and, crucially, the “absence of physical space between people and companies. They [cities] enable us to work and play together, and their success depends on the demand for physical connection.”

And what if the specific actions required to transform cities and the way we live in cities in the face of intense global environmental, economic and social pressures served to also make city places, spaces more liveable, safe, social and beautiful, civilized and sophisticated, allowing individuals to fulfill their capabilities and communities to flourish in a sustainable future with a higher quality of life (for all) than now?

What if our need to build and regenerate city fabric and infrastructure for resilience and agility in the face of intense environmental pressures helped regenerate economies, fuel prosperity and improve quality of life now and for the long term?

World-beating cities, businesses and communities already demonstrate that this is not just possible but actually very likely if, together, we grasp the challenge of change and stewardship in appropriate ways as an exercise in ‘civilizational regeneration’. The question is ‘Who will lead this remarkable transformation to cities and the way we live in them?’

The Remarkable Cities Project aims to inspire and enable a critical mass of leaders with the skills, knowledge and networks to transform cities to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st-century. Our elite programmes, to be held at world-leading universities, are aimed at city disruptors and emerging leaders; those people creating and innovating in design, finance, real estate, technology, third sector, brands and communications, in planning and partnership.

Through immersive learning experiences, participants on our programmes develop a ‘way of seeing’ – the framing and knowledge, evidence and references, critical reasoning and prospective intelligence – to address the complex challenges and remarkable opportunities facing the way we live in the 21st-century. In tandem, our programmes advance a ‘way of doing’ – the values and principles, communication and persuasion skills, experience of working across sectors and in creative teams – to disrupt dysfunctional systems and transform city problems into city solutions.

The Remarkable Cities team are building strategic partnerships with cities, outstanding businesses, communities, institutions and professions to form influential networks that become a compelling force in the rapid transition to the way we live in cities. The intention is to create an environment where our partners and the alumni of our programmes are able to collaborate and work effectively on transformative projects – to build a new urban practice – to make cities more resilient, just, liveable and inclusive.

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Originally posted at Living Cities.