Sunday, May 2, 2010

Urban Age Institute

Beyond Smart Cities E-mail
The popular literature and current trends in Europe and the US about global talent and knowledge economies advertise the promise of competitiveness and economic growth in so-called smart cities.  Yet some smart cities succeed better than others; some cities down on the IQ list achieve great things.  Acquiring a knowledge economy of highly educated talent, high tech industries and pervasive electronic connections are only the trappings of smartness and cannot guarantee the outcomes that policy makers hope to achieve.  Though global talent and seamless connections are important, they can also amount to only dressing a pauper in prince’s clothing.  This book, currently under preparation (PDF), will show at many levels the mechanisms of learning and how these connect to cities and neighborhoods.  The vital factors for smart cities are leadership networks coupled with an environment of trust.
Book proposal draft (PDF)
Light on a Shadow Economy E-mail
Data from 45 cities are analyzed to understand the mode, pace, and outcomes of city learning, defined as the acquisition of new knowledge.  Findings show that a large market of knowledge exchange has blossomed in cities around the world, that the largest cities undertake as many as 30 visits per year, a flow that if extrapolated on a global basis could reach tens of thousands of visits annually.  Nearly 40 percent of the visits was south-south.  Other findings are that reformer cities are more actively engaged in learning than non-reformers; city officials allocate in the range of 6 to 12 percent of their time in city-to-city learning activities, a modality of learning that has the most impact; and most cities codify, store, and follow up on knowledge.  Further work is needed to explore how stored knowledge is converted into innovation and to understand more about the cost and value of learning, among other questions.
 Light on a Shadow Economy (PDF)
Janus Face of Knowledge E-mail
This paper explores mechanisms of learning by examining four cases of planning in successful cities—Barcelona, Charlotte, Portland and Turin.  In this analysis, cities are viewed as learning organizations, with a focus on two key elements of acquiring and processing knowledge:  1) exposure to outside ideas, mainly through city visits, and 2) informal networks of trust among civic activists in planning.

The data show that all cities engage extensively in exchanging knowledge with peer cities, Barcelona being the most widely connected.  Sponsoring agencies affect both the composition and type of knowledge acquired.  Informal networks appear to perform multiple functions, including processing knowledge, applying it to pressing problems, storing knowledge for later use, and recruiting new members.  Above all, the network data support the idea that mutual trust is a telling feature of internal networks.  Comparison of quantitative attributes of the four internal networks reveal, however, variances in structure and function that may affect cohesiveness and pace of recruitment of new members. 
Torino as a Learning City E-mail
Over the past three decades, the city of Torino reached out to multiple sources of learning, identifying and capturing important insights, many from other cities.  Much of the knowledge acquired was later translated into benefits for Torino.  A signal feature of the city’s learning were fresh openings and new recruits in the circles of city thinkers, especially participants in the strategic planning process.  Two distinct openings took place, one in the mid 1990s and a second during the first half decade of 2000.  Persons whose skills and creativity had not been previously tapped were brought into the strategic planning process without regard to political affiliation, family background or industrial sector.  

The study also finds that Torino has not sustained a concentrated focus on learning it once generated around the strategic plans.  In recent years, it has diffused its focus, making it more difficult for the city to meet the new challenges now emerging, such as how governance will be organized to cover the wider metropolitan area, how the transformational impacts of the European high speed rail connections can be managed, what path to take to exploit the new promise and requirements for regional development, how to attract and integrate young global talent, and how to prepare for the oncoming globalization of Fiat as a world player in mobility.
Torino as a Learning City (PDF)