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The future of cities in an Urban Age

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 11/5/2009 12:00:00 AM | JENNIFER HATTAM

With 180,000 people moving to the world’s cities each day, an urban future is inevitable. The only question is what kinds of cities do we want to live in?

With 180,000 people moving to the world’s cities each day, an urban future is inevitable. The only question, according to a group of academics, planners and policymakers gathered in Istanbul this week, is what kinds of cities do we want to live in?

“Cities are the places where globalization can be experienced by ordinary citizens every day,” said Josef Ackermann, the chairman of the management board of Deutsche Bank, one of the organizers of the Urban Age series of conferences. “They bring the first, second and third world together, and all of the world’s problems in one place.”

From Mumbai to Mexico City, Shanghai to Johannesburg, urban dwellers are united by their shared challenges – providing efficient transportation, keeping the cost of living in check, cleaning up the environment and battling crime. Finding solutions to these problems by developing a template for the success of big cities is the goal of the Urban Age organization, a joint project of the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society.

Since 2005, Urban Age has hosted conferences on the future of cities in nine of the world’s largest urban areas; the latest is being held Thursday and Friday at the Esma Sultan Yalısı in Istanbul’s Ortaköy district.

Istanbul participants are facing a different world than those who attended the first conference in New York in February 2005 as the global economic crisis has created both challenges and opportunities for urban areas.

“The economic crisis may allow for the kind of sustainable growth that has eluded the United States thus far – low-carbon, innovation-fueled, export-oriented growth,” said Bruce Katz, the director of the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “The United States’ prosperity depends more than ever on ceasing to be an insular nation.”

In this, one of the world’s oldest cities may provide an example for some of its newest. “Istanbul’s particular past has required it to develop the capacity to govern and shape multiple networks, histories and geographies,” said Saskia Sassen, a sociology professor at New York’s Columbia University. “This role and the capabilities involved have taken on growing importance in an increasingly networked world.”

Rapid movement to urban areas – an estimated 14 people per hour relocate to Istanbul, which will see an estimated 1,679 percent growth between 1900 and 2020 – is a “double-edged sword,” Sassen said. Although increased mobility burdens city infrastructure and services, this influx, properly managed, is key to reaching a city’s potential.

According to a 2009 study by ATKearny that Sassen cited, a city’s foreign-born population and the presence of foreign firms are crucial factors in its prosperity and influence, making its ability to draw a diverse pool of human capital an essential element in future success.

“Cities concentrate wealth and potential,” says Urban Age director Ricky Burdett. “Despite their problems, cities are still seen as places of possibility, places where you can fly.”

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