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Brazil, India lead the way at the 2013 New Cities Summit
June 5, 2013, 3:18 pm

By 2025, São Paulo will not only be the most competitive city within Latin America, but also grow the most in its global competitiveness, says a new report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad could not have had a better opening line for his inaugural speech at the New Cities Summit, an international event currently underway in the city.

The Summit is the flagship annual event of the New Cities Foundation work, a non-profit and non-governmental organization based in Switzerland. The three-day Summit aims to bring together the leading thinkers and doers of the urban contemporary world, from architects to academics, businessmen to politicians, among a total of 700 leaders from around the globe.

São Paulo is its second edition – the inaugural New Cities Summit was held in Paris, in 2012.

The EIU report – “Hot Spots 2025: Benchmarking the Future Competitiveness of Cities,” commissioned by Citibank and released on the first day of the New Cities Summit – says São Paulo is projected to attract more capital, business, talent and tourists within the next decade. The global metropolis is the sixth world economy and represents 12 percent of Brazil’s GDP.

In the report, São Paulo joins other cities as Incheon and Mumbai – the three will see the greatest surge in global competitiveness between 2012 and 2025. Nonetheless, the case of São Paulo stands out as it shows a rise of 25 positions from the last ranking, moving up to 36th place.

Humane urbanization

Hamesh says the complexity of the urban challenges makes it impossible to solve  through a formal university instruction [Courtesy: New Cities Summit]

Hamesh says the complexity of the urban challenges makes it impossible to solve through a formal university instruction [Courtesy: New Cities Summit]

At the center of the debate at the New Cities Summit is a new concept – “The Human City”. The discussion surrounded the many levels in which the city as an animal and cities as a network, can work in a more human, or even humane way. This is particularly important since data presented at the Summit indicates that 60 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030.

Public Policy Researcher Ashwin Mahesh, one of the main speakers of the day at the New Cities Summit from Bangalore, says cities face social problems at their core.

“Urbanization has revealed itself mainly as a social challenge. If you have a technology problem you gather some competent technologists and they will eventually solve it, but if you have a social problem who should solve it? I believe all of us, every single person in society,” says Mahesh who is a social visionary, a technologist who changed career for the benefit of his city, by dealing with civic issues such as traffic and health.

“In order to be able to meet the challenges of urbanization it is not enough to scale the solutions, instead you have to scale the number of problem-solving people,” he told the Summit audience.

He used his native city – one of India’s most populous cities and its technological hub –  as an example.

“If we say that 1800 people are moving into cities on a daily basis, it means that half of that population is moving to my city, to Bangalore. We would need to build a school every three days and a hospital every two or three weeks to keep up with that level of demand. That is why there is so much that the public sector can do on its own,” he says.

For Mahesh, the key is to increase the number of people by investing in their education and practical skills.

“The opportunity to scale this people is much greater in universities, but in practice, the majority of universities could be shut down, they have become a fossil. The reason is that the complexity of the urban challenges makes it impossible to solve them through a formal university instruction,” he said.

“So, if you want to have any chance at all of solving the challenges of urbanization and globalization in our respective geographies, you need a kind of immersion program that teaches you also civic practice, transportation, among others.”

From India, the next generation of citizens

Mahesh defends a more inclusive system in which government, companies and the public share access to information and resources – a redistribution of power, but also of responsibility within the city.

“We are all members of this ecosystem in which your role is not defined by the job that you have, by who pays your salary, but by how you complete the incompleteness of the urban challenge and if we do this we can achieve something great – what we call the holy grail of democracy”, he says.

This type of democracy would transform the common citizen, from a passive to an active state; a sort of revolution with the way public service is structured.

As Mahesh outlines “people can themselves become managers of the city, not just users. They can be the managers maintaining public infrastructure, public works, documenting, many of the things that are thought of as public sector functions, can actually be performed by the public themselves and when this publically managed city happens, that’s when you will see a true acceleration towards meeting these challenges.”

By Helena Alves in São Paulo, Brazil for The BRICS Post