Knowledge Hub Archive

Smart cities: Cities as Magnets

At Common Purpose we believe that cities need to act as magnets. Drawing people in - citizens, leaders and young talent.

Cities as Magnets

Cities are at the top of the agenda today. The widely accepted predictions are that 75% of the world’s population will live in them by 2050. So these are the decades of the urbanisation of the world. In 2010, 3.6 billion people globally lived in cities, by 2050 this is set to be 6.3 billion (source: UN State of World Cities 2009). Cities will face huge pressures particularly on energy, food and water and the forces of fragmentation will be immense. The political, legal, economic, financial and institutional infrastructure in cities will have to adapt and deliver fast.

The Smart Cities debate is going strong. Largely initiated by IBM, it is dominated by a digital and technological discourse. Other "Cities" have since been coined; Future Cities, Sustainable Cities, Resource Efficient Cities, Low Carbon Cities, Resilient Cities, Job Creating Cities, Cohesive Cities, Digital Cities among them.

Not just laying fibre optic cables

As the city discourse has got more sophisticated, more reports acknowledge that two key prerequisites for any city to achieve Smart, Sustainable, Resilient or any other city status are that they have effective, connected leadership and engaged citizens. Recognising that even IT clever or rich cities will need to address the crucial people dimension.

Most urban reports now have amongst their recommendations for the physical and digital infrastructure, some people related recommendations. They are mostly about the need to:

  • engage citizens, to create the culture so that citizens stand up as civic leaders
  • get leaders from all sectors and backgrounds working together, recognising their interdependency
  • stimulate innovation, so that city leaders find new ways to shift problems which are of a new era and a whole new scale
  • connect up cities and city leaders globally so that they learn from each other.

The responses to these recommendations are often swamped by the action plans from experts in the physical and digital fields. This is hardly surprising because people issues to do with leadership, culture and values are so frustratingly messy and call for deep change in the behaviours of a wide spectrum of leaders and citizens across a city. Even more frustratingly, these changes cannot be achieved entirely from top down; they have crucially also to be bottom up if they are to attain scale and sustainability.

Opportunity to inspire

All this is at a time when so many leaders are still national. Governments, citizens, companies, NGOs operate through nations. This is both a weakness and a strength. A weakness because it ill prepares them to deal with the new urban world. A strength because, at a time when most existing systems illicit little confidence, trust or engagement, there is an opportunity to re-ignite interest and be game changing, redefining civic engagement in cities. And cities are also hungry to learn from each other in ways that nations seem less able to.

Now is also the moment when over four million university students a year are travelling abroad to study and this number will rise to eight million by 2020 (source: UNESCO). The vast majority will converge on cities and become a huge, mobile, globally connected population of leaders and citizens. The competition to attract them will be fierce as will be the challenge to give them an experience that will tie them to the city whether they stay or move on.

Terri Wills, Director of Global Initiatives, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group explains why cities are best placed to tackle big global challenges such as climate change

Common Purpose roots

Common Purpose knows a lot about cities. We have a long track record of working in them. And we have consistently done this in some of the toughest cities in the world (Belfast, Istanbul, Budapest, and Tripoli, for example).

We wake up citizens and bring leaders from all sectors and backgrounds together. Individually we touch their heads and their hearts. Their heads by getting them to realise how interdependent they are and giving them the knowledge, networks and skills they will need to work together. And we touch their hearts by getting them to recognise that they are the leaders of the city, that there is no great "they" to delegate the city to and then inspire them as they realise what they can achieve together. We understand the square in the middle of a city, how to bring it to life.

We operate in 75 cities across 6 continents. We customise our programmes for leaders in global corporates, governments and foundations. We already run one world-class global leaders programme across the Commonwealth and will launch another in the coming months. And we run the ground breaking Common Purpose Massive Online Innovation Community (MOIC) which allows our most innovative alumni to collaborate and work on challenges set by global decision makers, who want new ideas from practical, pragmatic, inspiring leaders of all ages, all over the world.

We know about innovation. Our InnoVentures are run all over the world; getting leaders to break from old thinking and work together to develop new ideas and plans. Our independence and depth allow us to convene people from the public, private and community sectors and across old and new divides. We get them to work together creatively so that new ideas emerge. We know that diversity is the key to innovation and we spark it both in cities across the world and across the cities of the world.


The next generation

We work with the next generation across the world. We know how to inspire students to learn from each other and understand their city. So that they - domestic or foreign - do not behave like armies of occupation, gaining no understanding of the city and sticking with fellow nationals as they study. With our local student programmes (Frontrunner), we ensure students don't just learn about engineering and economics but also about cities. And with our global programmes (Global Leader Experiences), we ensure they take advantage of being amongst students from many countries, forming new global networks.

Magnet Cities

At Common Purpose we believe that cities need to act as magnets. Drawing people in - citizens, leaders and young talent. No city can really be Smart, Resilient, Sustainable or anything else unless it does so, however many fibre optic cables are laid.

For a city to act as a magnet it needs to be connected. To the region which surrounds it and from which it gains so much strength. And to other cities across the world, with which it can learn, innovate and grow. Then it needs:

  1. Citizens - all citizens - to know it is their city.
    Not because the Mayor or Governor listens to their views. But because they and their leaders are engaged in setting the city's course and making it a reality. The city will draw in leaders from all communities including its rural hinterland. The square in the middle of such a city is alive, demanding and thriving. No single voice or voices dominate and no voice is left out. Indeed the square is full of many voices, asking questions, having ideas, making things happen and holding leaders to account.
  2. Leaders - all leaders - to work together.
    They know they can achieve little on their own. They recognise that the problems and challenges that the city faces spread across the boundaries between sectors, generations and cultures. So the leaders know that they have to cross the boundaries too, resisting the temptation to stay in their own silos. They collaborate. And by collaborating they innovate, coming up with ideas which they might have missed or dismissed in the past. This shines through when the city hits a big problem. Its leaders know how to work together because they do it all the time. In fact, together they often turn the problem into an opportunity.
  3. Talent convenes in the city. 
    And it draws ever more talent in. Many nationalities will study at its universities. Global leaders want to meet in it. This intellectual capital - global in nature - will feed the city, providing future leaders who will be connected locally and globally in a way never seen before, whether they stay on in the city or move on.

Volker Buscher talks about "what makes a city smart" at CSCLeaders 2015

Charbel Aoun, SVP Smart Cities, Schneider Electric explains why collaboration between all sectors within a city is crucially important.