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September 17, 2017

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Intelligent applications, emotional appeal

SHANGHAI’S future as a “city of excellence” will be shaped by innovation and collaboration but will be maintained by its sense of community and shared culture.

2008 was a year of big events: the Beijing Olympics, a US presidential election and the onset of the global financial crisis among them. But that year a milestone of even greater historical importance passed by quietly. Sometime in 2008, for the first time in history, more people lived in cities than in the countryside.

Cities are mankind’s future. Over the next 40 years one million people will move from the countryside to the city every week. To make sure our urban future is happy and productive requires careful planning and the intelligence and passion of a diverse set of stakeholders: from government officials, to businesspeople to community groups and residents themselves.

Shanghai has been a global leader in this kind of planning for the past generation. To help tap into the experience and knowledge of global businesses, nearly 30 years ago the Mayor of Shanghai established the International Business Leaders Advisory Council (IBLAC). IBLAC convenes the leaders of some of the world’s best-known multinationals to share their insights and perspectives on Shanghai’s development and help the city take an even more prominent place in the world. This year, its 38 members are advising on themes related to the municipal government’s master plan for Shanghai — its plan to be a global “city of excellence” by 2040.

The challenges of growth

As cities grow and evolve they of course face many different challenges, based on their stage of development: from unstructured growth in the newest cities to infrastructure pressures in the most established. But cities share some common challenges, too. First and foremost, they are hugely resource intensive: they consume two-thirds of the world’s energy and generate 70 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change: 90 percent of urban areas are coastal, and face danger from rising sea levels.

While cities are increasingly popular places to live, competition between them for the talent and capital needed to keep a city vibrant is strong. The concepts of maintaining attractiveness in the face of rising urban competition, resilience and sustainability are increasingly intertwined, and high on the best municipal leaders’ agendas, as they are in Shanghai. Meeting these challenges requires not only civic “brains” but also civic “heart.”

The ‘brains’: innovation and collaboration

Technology is helping cities address these challenges by becoming “smarter.” An ever-increasing flow of data from connected systems, sensors, and devices can improve decision-making and efficiency across both physical infrastructure, such as energy, waste and transport networks, as well as social services for residents. City dwellers are generating more of their own energy and getting more of their power from distributed renewable sources. While net zero energy, where the renewable energy generated by a building equals the total energy it uses, is rapidly becoming a goal for many buildings around the world. Cities built on driverless transit systems, smart buildings and green spaces are beginning to emerge.

Shanghai has long been a leader in sustainable growth. In fact, the United Nations’ own guide for sustainable urban development is called the Shanghai Manual in recognition of the city’s leadership in the field.

Of course innovation on this scale requires collaboration. Both city to city — to share expertise — such as the C40 network of megacities (of which Shanghai is an observer city) and also public and private cooperation — often in the form of public-private partnerships. This does not need to be only about investment, however. Groups such as IBLAC demonstrate how government and business can successfully collaborate and innovate for the common civic good.

The ‘heart’: community and culture

Maintaining a city’s success over the long term requires human capital. It comes down to attracting and retaining talented people: the students, creatives, volunteers, professionals and entrepreneurs — big and small — who are the hallmark of a vibrant city, who contribute great ideas and attract investment. This is about a city’s live-ability — which is not just about intelligent applications, but about a city’s emotional appeal. It’s about creating an inclusive urban society, where everyone can flourish — through work and leisure.

So while Shanghai’s master plan sets out bold ambitions to be a global center in finance, trade and technological innovation and to lead in regional development — it also covers many aspects of urban life from commute times to cultural and community spaces; forest coverage to affordable housing; sports to senior care.

Today, IBLAC members are coming together to share their recommendations. Similar to the master plan, these are in diverse areas from emissions reduction and environmental resilience to how the elderly can participate more in society, and from the role of nutrition in promoting economic growth to the societal benefits of access to pensions and saving plans.

Shanghai’s future as a “city of excellence” will be shaped by innovation and collaboration but will be maintained by its sense of community and shared culture. Cities of excellence engender a sense of pride and belonging. They are made up of diverse but cohesive communities — where everyone can achieve their potential. Because even a mega-city like Shanghai has to work at the micro level.


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