Meeting of the Minds has become the premier leadership conference for sustainable cities. An initiative of Urban Age Institute which works to foster leadership and innovation in the areas of strategic urban planning, urban policy, public sector management, sustainable environmental planning and poverty reduction, the conference meets in different locations each year to highlight local urban challenges and international solutions. Last year’s event, which was held in Toronto, focused on innovation in transport; to celebrate eight years of operation, this year’s conference will be located in Detroit, an apt setting to explore issues in urban revitalization. Conference organizers note: “Detroit offers a platform for the discussion of alternative urban futures – which are relevant for all cities.”
Innovation is a watchword at Meeting of the Minds (MoM) conferences. Speakers hail from a cross section of industries, academia and government to address issues in urban infrastructure, design, technology, energy, transport, water and finance. The increasing role that technology plays in resolving urban challenges is reflected in the conference make up – a number of presentations are typically devoted to ICT-enabled solutions that demonstrate what can be achieved through the collaborative application of technology. The tech sessions are of particular interest to InsightaaS, media sponsor of the Toronto and Detroit events.
A cautionary tale: An extreme example of urban crisis, Detroit serves as a cautionary tale that may apply across the North American industrial heartland. Built on the automotive industry, Detroit flourished through the 20th century, shaping transport across North America and creating wealth for both industrialists and a modern class of blue collar workers. But now Detroit is bankrupt, and the Motor City has experienced a huge exodus of residents, a spate of home abandonment and plummeting tax revenues. An analysis of Detroit’s shorter term financial history has shown, though, that with better management, disaster need not have been case, despite problems in the automotive sector. How Detroit grapples with renewal provides an invaluable test case for urban reinvention that may inform planning and urban management across the continent. Detroit is not alone among North American cities in the need to transition to more sustainable economic and social structures.
Progress through partnership: Collaboration is often touted as the ‘secret sauce’ that enables urban sustainability. Richard Florida’s “Great Reset” (or economic recovery), for example, is based on the ability of the “creative class” to share, building value though collaborative innovation. But what forms can this collaboration take? While ICT watchers and consumers are familiar with benefits of the always-on tech approach to collaboration, in-person events offer a unique opportunity for the sharing of best practices in urban management. The Meeting of the Minds conference operates on this level – more than a networking event, it showcases innovation at the edge in real live implementations that demonstrate the art-of-the-possible, and can inspire progress through use of smarter design tools, better management systems, sounder environmental practices and cleaner energy solutions. Multiple discussions, panel sessions and networking support cross-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder participation in the evolution of smarter infrastructure and systems, a key requirement for development on the urban front.
Smart City a burgeoning opportunity: Analyst sizing of the market for smart city technology and services appears more crystal ball than science. Depending on what’s counted and when, market predictions range from the Navigant Research forecast which puts global smart city technology revenues at $8.8 billion in 2014 ($27.5 billion in 2023) to the MarketsandMarkets estimates which include services revenue to reach $654.57 billion in 2014 and $1,266.58 billion in the year 2019, to Frost and Sullivan’s estimate of $1.5 trillion global market potential for smart cities by 2020. If counting is less than consistent, one item is clear – there is significant opportunity for the product vendors, integrators and service providers that can build the technology foundations needed to enable smart city, which has been recognized by forward thinking members of the IT community in persistent sponsorship and involvement in the Meeting of the Minds forum. In this regard, Cisco and Toyota stand out.
The bottom line:
Ongoing sponsorship of the MoM event by Cisco and Toyota speaks to the long term investment and sustained effort needed to support the development of emerging markets for complex solutions. So far, sponsors have applied a light hand in their product messaging, an approach that serves to reinforce the event’s ability to encourage continuing research and discussion on the application of ICT to urban challenges. One might ask about motive, as in the case of green IT: is an energy conservation solution less valid because it also produces cost savings? But the answer is that feasibility involves return for all stakeholders, and the outcome is a desired end in itself – a focal point for smart city/urban development efforts which otherwise may be scattered across the multiple discipline, industry and government stakeholders that are in play.
This year’s Meeting of the Minds gathering will bring together 350 leaders from more than a dozen countries, representing the public, private, and non-profit sectors. The speaker lineup is eclectic, with representatives from the IT, transport and energy sectors, city governments around the world, Detroit urban renewal agencies, and research organizations aimed at sustainable urban development. Details are available here.