Global Forum To Harness Metropolitan Might

With global cities now on the verge of explosive growth, the world ironically has never seemed smaller. Not just because of the digital wizardry that instantaneously links London, New York, Shanghai, Dubai, Tokyo, and other global power players, but because of shared concerns over managing finite resources and creating sufficient and sustainable “infrastructure”.

In the broadest sense, that word also encompasses economics, financing, urban planning, transportation, renewable energy, public heath and safety, environmental responsibility, and myriad other compelling topics. All are driven in one way by the simultaneous, unprecedented growth of both human population and proliferating technologies. And all define the global cities of tomorrow that are already here.

“This is the century of cities. For the first time in human history, more people now live in cities than in rural areas”

— Chicago Council on Global Affairs

All of these issues, and more, will be on stage starting this evening at the annual Chicago Forum on Global Cities, hosted jointly once again by the London UK-based Financial Times (FT) and The Chicago Council of Global Affairs (CCGA). Last year’s three-day event drew some 600 civic leaders, scholars, policy makers, educators, think tanks — even artists — to Chicago for several wide-ranging discussions on the intersections of data, development and derring-do in a world changing at breakneck speed. “Global cities” share an increasing ability and agility to cross borders and cultures to collaboratively confront challenge. (Read our event story from last year here.)

“In this dynamic city of Chicago, with its own challenges and its sky-high opportunities, we will examine what common concerns unite us and how global cities can use their growing influence to create more livable communities for all,” said Amb. Ivo H. Daalder, CCGA’s president.

  • Watch the ‘live stream’ of this year’s 12 Global Forum sessions. Click here
  • Follow the event on social media at this hashtag: #GlobalCities2016

“In April, alone, cities around the globe added almost 5 million people,” noted Karen Weigert, CCGA senior fellow on Global Cities, writing last week in GreenBiz. “Cities are not often viewed as environmentally friendly places,” she added. “Cities today cover just 2% of the globe’s land, yet they are the drivers of 70% of global carbon emissions.”

But beneath this tough exterior lies a key building block in the fight against climate change. “Per capita emissions in cities are typically lower than those in their home country,” Weigert wrote.

So, increasing urbanization does not have to mean the end of life as we know it. On the contrary, it may even be an unlikely source of hope, and extraordinary research. Indeed, the ‘big data’ available now in cities, and growing daily, is making not just the cities “smarter”, but the people, businesses and public entities that inhabit, service and manage them, as well.

“Most of us are either living in a global city or being influenced by one, and we have a unique opportunity to discuss the serious issues facing cities with the leaders tasked with the challenge,” said Gillian Tett, FT’s managing editor for the U.S. “The forum provides access to the innovators and decision-makers influencing the role of future cities.”

Over the next 48 hours, they will have plenty to consider. Lending urgency to the proceedings is the dramatic rate in which demographics are shifting everywhere. The scales tipped in 2008, when the world’s population became evenly split between those living in urban areas and rural areas. The jaw dropper is the United Nations’ prediction that, by 2050, 64% of the developing world and 86% of the developed world will be urbanized. So, global cities need to begin to prepare accordingly. ASAP.

Sessions sampling

One recurring theme is the interplay between cities and nations in shaping policy and programs. “What is the intersection of authority between the two? How is the rise of global cities changing global governance and international institutions, such as the United Nations?”

Such queries fill the forum’s opening session, The Power and Limitations of Global Cities, which tonight will feature panelists from the worlds of government and urban planning, include Carl Bildt, Sweden’s former prime minister; Chan Heng Chee, chairman of the “Center for Innovative Cities” at the Singapore University of Technology and Design; former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., founder and chairman of a Chicago-based think tank focused on pressing economic and environmental challenges in the U.S. and China; and Paribatra Sukhumbhand, governor for the City of Bangkok.

The intersection of urban and national governs countless issues, as climate changes. In the session Climate Change and Global Cities, Connie Hedegaard, former EU Commissioner for Climate Action and both Chairman of CONCITO, a large Danish climate and sustainability foundation, and now KR Foundation, a green think tank, will discuss the role of global cities in advancing this spring’s most historic event, when 175 countries signed the Paris climate agreement, pledging to reduce greenhouse emissions “well below 2 degrees Celsius” by 2020.


Another big change since last year’s Forum?



At issue is that cities discharge 75% of global CO2 emissions, placing them at front and center of the historic accord. Accordingly, the session will investigate new sustainable technologies global cities are developing and adopting, and the and the methods they are implementing to ensure their economic viability. Another discussion point: the potential for international urban networks to serve global cities and the world. Joining Hedegaard are Thai-Ker, senior director with Singapore-based RSP Architects Planners & Engineers; and Boris Palmer, Lord Mayor of Tübingen, Germany.

The growth of global cities likewise places them squarely at the center of increasing concern over public safety and health. With ISIS-related massacres in Paris and Brussels still open wounds, cities have entered an era leaving them no choice but to improve their ability to minimize the potential for terrorist threats,while improving responses to them. Additionally, the current spread of the Zika virus and the re-emergence of the Ebola virus last year suggest that cities and regions aren’t sufficiently equipped to confront health threats that could trigger pandemics.

In addition to these issues “Global Threats to the Global City,” will delve into concerns about cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure. Panelists, who include Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, president of Emirates Policy Center; Paul D. Steinberg, chief technology officer with Motorola Solutions; and Tan Chorh Chuan, president with National University of Singapore, will take on the tough questions: “How are global cities responding to and preparing for these threats, particularly in collaboration with or independent of national agencies? What types of security infrastructure and technology are needed? Can a global city be both secure and welcoming?”

Another session, Redesigning the Global City, acknowledges most global cities are products of previous eras and require upgrades to infrastructure and public spaces to meet the demands of population growth. It’s a long-standing predicament, the primary issue being funding. The session “Financing the Global City,” acknowledges as much by inquiring “How should global cities finance the infrastructure and amenities needed to compete in a globalizing world without pricing people out of the city? How can they attract and harness foreign direct investments to support their economic development plans? How should business, universities, and other nongovernmental institutions build public-private partnerships to improve the global city?”

Panelists include François Bergere, program manager of the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility at The World Bank; Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Mayor of Warsaw, Poland; Umran S. Inan, president with Turkey’s Koç University; and Dan Pelino, GM for the global public sector at IBM Corp.

All told, the world this year remains on the cusp of convulsive change wrought by forces as variable as the environment, technological innovation, regional instabilities, terrorism, and shifting demographics. As they grow in size and stature, expect the world’s 25 or so global cities to play proportionately greater roles in resolving these and other global issues. That is why this Forum – a truly international gathering of some of the world’s best thinkers – will undoubtedly be back again next spring.

In the meantime, listen in and get smarter. Click here