Global change through urban partnerships

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Cities as far-flung as Boston and Vancouver, Canada, share complex, but solvable, urban challenges, including affordable housing, job creation and economic development, according to Northeastern alumnus Michael Lake, executive director of the World Class Cities Partnership (WCCP).

Speaking at the first annual Partnership Summit at the Egan Research Center last Thursday, Lake told some two-dozen civic, business and academic leaders from all over the world, “We may face common challenges, but we can bring people together to recognize the possibilities for our cities and create positive change in the twenty-first century.”

Thought leaders, he added, have the potential to “create global change on a local level.”

WCCP is an initiative of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. The goal of the program is to establish productive partnerships between universities and government agencies in metropolitan areas worldwide to identify and address mutually important urban issues.

On the first day of the two-day summit, delegates from Boston; Barcelona, Spain; Dublin, Ireland; Guadalajara, Mexico; Haifa, Israel; Lisbon, Portugal and Vancouver, addressed the economic development of their respective cities. On the second day, they designed a research agenda for sharing strategies related to attracting and retaining both businesses and individuals that form a city’s economic foundation.

“This partnership could have a key long term benefit for our region,” said Brendan Williams, a lecturer in urban development at University College Dublin. “The strength of this partnership is in its worldwide spread.”

The city of Dublin, he said, has spent too much time and money on developing its construction and real estate sector and not enough energy on rebuilding its education system.

“We need to remember that people create wealth,” he said. “We must invest in people.”

Boston, said city councilor Tito Jackson, is only a temporary destination for global entrepreneurs, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is worth some $14 billion.

As he put it, “We have to keep young, innovative talent and make sure they are putting down their roots in Boston.”

Young activists in Guadalajara, Mexico, take a do-it-yourself approach toward solving the city’s problems, noted Hector Robles Peiro, the general director of social development for the Mexican city of Zapopan.

In response to increased levels of traffic and air pollution, for example, some 100 young environmentalists painted a bike lane along the crowded streets.

“Young people no longer believe in politicians or institutions to solve their problems,” said Peiro, who added that NGOs run by 20-somethings are popping up around the city. “People have started organizing themselves.”

Lake praised the summit. “In this age of communication we find that sharing information and knowledge advances any community or any issue,” he said.