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In recognizing the need for new models for urban development, the World Economic Forum—which brings the world to Davos every January—has mobilized a multi-stakeholder team to find alternatives. Nic Villa, global director in the Cisco® Internet Business Solutions Group Public Sector practice, was recently named to this year’s Global Agenda Council for Infrastructure & Urban Development (GAC), a team of 15 experts and industry leaders drawn from around the world. This group is dedicated to exploring and identifying transformational models for infrastructure and urban development (I participated as a member in last year’s GAC).

By offering the case study of Shenzhen, Cisco IBSG contributed an outstanding example to the new “Urban Anthologies: Learning from our Cities” a user-friendly toolkit developed by the GAC to empower mayors, urban leaders, and private sector decision makers who are seeking to transform cities and communities. The tool highlights not only the physical outcomes of the projects but, most important, the catalytic and enabling factors that make these transformations possible (see chart below).

The catalysts and methods for urban transformation vary, as do the types of cities. The cases selected for this initial attempt comprise a mix of mature cities, developing or fast-growing cities, declining cities, and new greenfield cities. The common thread among the cases is that each has utilized nontraditional means of planning, financing, and design to offer people and businesses a healthier, more productive, more livable, and more environmentally responsible place to live and work. These interventions represent new, replicable models for development at a critical time when traditional concepts and methods are increasingly failing in the face of swiftly changing urban dynamics.

Framework for Case Study Selection

“Urban Anthologies: Learning from our Cities” offers a unique format to showcase six success stories from communities around the world. The six booklets—which can be bound together and read as a single document, or taken apart and read as individual stories—afford two different lenses on the same issue: the reader can view the compiled version to get a taste of the broad spectrum of driving factors that led to the series of urban transformations, or fold open a particular booklet to gain an in-depth understanding of a singular story. The format has been built to expand over time.

This work begs the question: where is the debate about urban development leading us? At this particular moment, it does seem to be focused on the critical path forward for cities that want to become more resilient. For those interested in more insight into this element of the growing debate, please see the Cisco IBSG white paper “The Resilient Society: Innovation, Productivity, and the Art and Practice of Connectedness.”


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