I have spent the past 5 days in London on a whirlwind trip to take part in the grand opening of the Siemens Crystal and the Urban Planning for City Leaders Conference. I met some wonderful people, learned a lot and also had a great time; here are some highlights of the experience.
Arriving in London is always a treat. Yes, the city has an incredible energy but it is more than that – for me London is a constant reminder that cities can build sustainability into their identities. Anyone who has ever ridden on the Underground will know what I mean. It is efficient, well connected and just generally amazing. This is one of the few cities where I have never even had to think about taking a taxi. With 9 million people, the Tube is integral to transporting people around the city and keeping road congestion down. Additionally, it is an icon of London – a symbol of the city that dawns t-shirts, key chains and fridge magnets (“Mind the Gap!”). It makes me hopeful that other cities will follow suit and invest in this type of infrastructure.
As I disembarked from the Royal Victoria Station I got my first glimpse of the Crystal in Docklands. The building is truly stunning from the outside, a unique shape covered in glass and light.
But the outside is simply the beginning of what the Crystal has to offer. What is truly remarkable is the permanent exhibition that is meant to educate visitors on sustainable cities. I attended the grand opening of the exhibit with two the other Future Influencers – Rashiq Fataar (Future Cape Town) who I went to Rio +20 with and Joe Peach (This Big City). We were privileged to hear speeches from key enablers of the Crystal including the CEO of Siemens and the mayor of London.
The highlight of the night was an incredible outdoor light show showcasing the importance of sustainability and the Crystal’s role in moving towards a greener future. You can watch the full light show here. What did we do before the days of Youtube?
When we got the chance to tour the exhibition I was absolutely blown away. Siemens has built a truly extraordinary resource for education. I wish I could take every EnerNerd there to experience it first hand. The exhibit has interactive displays on everything from population to energy (demand and supply) to water to smart grid to transport to building materials to urban planning. You name it, it’s there… and in an easily understandable, fun way! Below are a few photo highlights from the exhibit. I encourage anyone in London to stop in and check it out.
Urban Planning for City Leaders
The conference was part of the opening festivities as well and proved to be very interesting. My expertise in sustainability is mainly around energy production and consumption; I know very little about urban planning and smart cities so this event was a great learning opportunity. Here are a few highlights from my notes:
- By the end of the century 90% of people will live in cities.
- Cities are economic engines that create jobs, wealth and opportunity but they must be developed carefully to be able to accommodate all those who will come to them seeking opportunities.
- Connectivity is important for the economy of a city but not all cities can afford/finance the infrastructure necessary.
- There is a stigma around the term “planning” because it has been done poorly in the past. It seems that today when the word plan is used people think of socialism. This stigma needs to be changed for successful cities in the city.
- People are arguably the most important part of city planning. Meaningful and comprehensive stakeholder engagement must be part of the process from the very onset and citizens should understand that their role is not only in strategy development but also implementation.
- Successful urban planning has an “author” or a champion that can bring together diverse opinions to drive toward consensus.
- Public and private partnership is crucial for smart cities. Companies can provide the technology to achieve the goals of the plan and actually turn vision to reality. Without this collaboration the vision of the people ends up in a museum as a “futuristic city” that never actually gets built.
Normally, a plane ride home wouldn’t be worth noting but as I flipped through my entertainment system I saw a documentary I have wanted to see for quite sometime – “The Island President”. The film is about the President of the Maldives and his fight for a binding deal at Copenhagen. The film was excellent. It is a compelling story of the global challenges we face on climate and how daunting it is to make the change that is needed. I highly recommend checking it out.
That sums it up! I look forward to hearing your views on urban sustainability.