New Cities Summit

I recently attended the New Cities Summit in Montreal hosted by the New Cities Foundation. The New Cities Foundation is arguably the gold standard for non-profits focused on cities and the conference did not disappoint. It was attended by mayors, CEOS, and entrepreneurs, with most of the attendees being urban planners and architects. The conference was enlightening for me as I come from a different background than most of the attendees. There are three interesting aspects worth highlighting.

First, during a roundtable, the mayor of San Antonio mentioned implementing body cams for her police force. She acknowledged that body cameras are seen as best practices, which is a positive sign. However, she also focused on the practical difficulties of implementing them, having a server to host the video, when to release video to the public, and ensuring compatibility across different departments. I found her comments interesting as a tech company could have solved the organizational issues in a number of weeks, if not days, while the process she described would take months, if not years.

Second, there was a workshop on the idea of self-driving cars. There was a lot of excitement for self-driving cars, and given the conference was geared toward establishment types, such excitement is a positive sign. At the same time, there was much discussion of regulation. I was the only consistent voice worrying about how regulation could slow the development of self-driving cars, though participants seemed open to my suggestions.

Third, there was a discussion of new cities. Sarah Moser led the discussion, with King Abdullah Economic City, Gale International, the Incheon Free Trade Zone, and Rendeavour discussing their projects. Sarah estimated there were over 100 new city projects around the world, and having access to academic discussions from a different perspective was fascinating. There also was a surprising interest in legal autonomy and how such autonomy could improve new cities.

I came away from the conference with confidence about the future of free cities. Most participants I chatted with were open to the idea. At the same time, there is still too much focus on the physical nature of cities, simply conceiving of them as large construction projects. That being said, the trend lines are generally positive.

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