A two-day brainstorm on the future of cities

Mayors, urban planners and leaders in business, education and technology will converge in Philadelphia Wednesday and Thursday for the local edition of a traveling conversation on the future of cities.

“There is this incredible urbanization happening” around the world, said Miro Cernetig, who with Marc Andrew co-founded the organization that is leading these New American City discussions, CityAge Media. “How we build and re-build cities will define the century to come.”

Delegates from more than 40 cities across the United States and abroad are expected to attend the two-day Philadelphia symposium, which will feature speakers on topics including city planning, transportation and architecture to big data, education, the financing of traditional and digital infrastructure, the arts and environmental resiliency.

All cities must grapple with these tasks, tapping their areas of strength and fortifying weaknesses, Cernetig said.

“Philadelphia … is not without its problems – the digital divide, the high school graduation rates, all this needs work,” he said. “But when you look at the universities you have, the human talent and even the financial capital – that’s huge.”

The digital divide was among the key topics in Kansas City, where Google has established a high-speed digital network. Cernetig said Kansas City leaders weighed options related to subsidizing digital connectivity for low-income people in their homes, or instead wiring up public places that can be accessed by everyone, whether or not they can afford a computer and data plan.

There is a growing feeling that digital connectivity should be provided as a public utility, like electricity is, he said. And the easiest way to get access to the most people is by providing access at public places.

Most of the presentations and discussions from each symposium are posted on-line at http://www.cityage.tv/. Information about the organization and the Philadelphia program are also on the website.

Cernetig noted that one of the most powerful things to come out of the symposiums are the human connections – leaders from participating cities have met their counterparts from other places, and they have begun sharing information directly.

Others among the slated topics of discussion here are the $140-billion high-speed railway that would connect Philadelphia and the other I-95 corridor cities from D.C. to Boston; the responsibility of urban universities to serve as economic catalysts for their cities, the challenge of balancing population growth with environmental sustainability and the best ways to use data and analytics for city planning.

“In the years to come, the role of cities, and the challenges they face, will change,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “The CityAge symposium will bring together government leaders and private sector problem solvers to discuss ways to reshape and build cities that are ready for the future.”

Presenters will include Nutter; Paul Levy, CEO of Center City District; Kyle Kimball, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation; Edward Luce, chief U.S. commentator for the Financial Times, Gail Sussman, managing director of Moody’s Investor Service; Eugenie Birch, professor of urban research at the University of Pennsylvania; Andrew Frank, special advisor to the president on economic development; Stephen Bellairs, a partner at MSR Architecture; Anne Ewers, president and CEO of the Kimmel Center; David Devan, general director and president of Opera Philadelphia; and Rebecca Bagley, President & CEO of NorTech.

The organization has partnered with Drexel University here, and Drexel will host the event.

Drexel President John A. Fry and Nutter will participate in a keynote dialogue about how urban universities can be economic and civic assets to their cities via innovation and commercial and civic partnerships.

Philadelphia is the 9th city to host a CityAge symposium. Previous hosts have included New York, Kansas City, Toronto and Vancouver with scheduled events upcoming in Seattle and London.

“I’m proud to welcome CityAge to Drexel and Philadelphia” said Fry. “Universities are a critical thread in the evolving urban fabric, and I’m looking forward to joining leading thinkers and practitioners in a dialogue on making cities work for everyone.”

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