Cities Are Coming of Age

May 16, 2012 - 0 Comments

Cisco IBSG is engaging with some of the world’s most dynamic cities—for instance in San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Barcelona—to jointly explore how cities can harness new technology innovations. Success for such cities can lead to smarter choices by citizens in working, next-gen commuting, and communicating.  Now, for the first time a book peels back an entirely new layer on smart cities, shedding original insight into city behaviors and opening up innovative pathways from which solutions can emerge in urban places.

Beyond Smart Cities:  How Cities Network, Learn and Innovate by Tim Campbell, chair of the Urban Age Institute, an international non-profit and organizer of “The Meeting of the Minds,” zeroes in on how cities learn.  This is a topic that’s been out of the mainstream of urban discussion, but it’s clearly in the mainstream of city practice.  Nations and international organizations have completely missed the burgeoning exchange among cities.  This important new book adduces a lot of evidence—at the level of global city-to-city exchange, as well as specific case experiences, involving face-to-face relations among urban elites—to show that some of the smartest cities make a practice of learning systematically.In making these discoveries, Campbell produces many surprises.  For one thing, he reminds us that the new kids on the block—the global block, that is—are cities.  As Campbell says, it’s not just that the planet is urban; the corollary is that our urban planet has 1,000 cities that have enough heft to make change.  Second, city leaders know they don’t have to reinvent the wheel to solve problems in transit, waste, or water.  They are aware that many kinds of wheels have already been invented, and mayors would rather manage risks by checking out somebody else’s solution than to try to invent one on their own.  Third, cities are moving all over the planet—by the thousands to tens of thousands of visits per year—in search of good ideas in policy and practice.

But one key finding has special relevance for Cisco’s ecosystem of partners and customers: the most innovative cities put together a machinery of learning.  In Campbell’s terms, cities create a “tissue of remembering,” the web-work of seminars, documents, discussions and virtual records that help a heterogeneous community keep track of new ideas and process them for local adaptation.  The machinery also consists of “clouds of trust,” relationships of confidence among the leadership elite in a city, and these relationships are crucial in circulating information and making collective judgments about what will work and how to proceed.

On all of these counts, there’s something here for us to learn.  For one thing, Cisco is now more actively engaged in understanding, and facilitating, the global learning knowledge exchange amongst and between city leaders.  For another, Cisco’s IBSG engagements offer added value to the machinery of learning—sometimes by doing one simple thing, such as enhancing network quality and network speeds and network reliability, which in turn affects everything, including knowledge capture.  Another tantalizing target would be to work with a wider elite within specific cities to accelerate the pace and reliability of learning.  In other words, Cisco is helping cities achieve the systematic and continuous learning that moves cities beyond current (and far-too-limited) definitions of ‘Smart Cities.’

Beyond Smart Cities is, in summary, an important new book. It throws new light on the active trade of ideas from one place to the next among cities around the globe.  This carefully researched volume documents a surprisingly large interplay among cities in the global South and the global North and uncovers heretofore unknown dynamics in the market of exchange.  Included among other initiatives underway at Cisco, are the formation of partnerships with many cities that are already seeking to facilitate city-to-city exchange, which is hastening the spread of innovative practices.

Stay tuned for more on Tim Campbell, as he will once again return to the podium at Meeting of the Minds 2012 in San Francisco on October 10 – 11.

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