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Monday, July 23, 2012

Creating Self-sufficient City Ecosystems

I recently listened to a set of interviews on ABC Radio National's program Future Tense. Here's the link: Food, our urban environment and future tastes.

In particular, I was struck by the interview with Jeb Brugmann. The following are passages re-posted from his website that describe his recent book Welcome to the Urban Revolution: How cities are changing the world and the background of the author. The link to his website is included with his bio.

What does it mean that half the world’s people now live in cities – and that two billion more will join them over the next 25 years? How does this change the way the world works?

The following five ideas summarize How the Urban Revolution is changing the world.
  1. It’s not about “megacities” or even “mega-regions” – it’s a new global system. Traditional concepts of cities no longer serve us. For more than 50 years, cities small and large have been connecting through infrastructure, migration, trade, and social networks into a single worldwide urban system. The growth of inter-city networks drives the further evolution of urban infrastructure, products, commerce, lifestyles and cultures, which together increase the consolidation of the urban system. “Globalization” is an abstract term for this very material and ongoing process of re-engineering the world into a new geography – the global City.
  2. The world isn’t “flat.” The City is made up of myriad nested local city systems at the metropolitan, district, and neighborhood levels—places with unique qualities, advantages, and vulnerabilities. Even as the growing City subjects small city districts to global pressures, it also amplifies very local conditions into world events. Through the City’s networked reach, events of very local origin constantly interrupt the old world order. Epidemics (SARS), political upheavals (Venezuela, Kenya, Iran), supply chain breakdowns (New Orleans), and transnational criminal organizations all arise from specific local conditions and spread to other city locations worldwide. The current global financial crisis (2007-2009) arose from a perverse new approach to city building in the United States. Managing global affairs during the next phase of the Urban Revolution requires redoubled attention to the details of localities and location.
    The particularities of distinct urban districts and regions are also increasingly critical to opportunity and competitiveness. Unique forms of city-building provide particular economic advantages in terms of legacy resources, reduced costs and resource efficiencies, and conditions for specialized forms of collaboration and productivity. Successful organizations carefully select or build customized urban locations to secure unique advantages. Then they establish a network of locations across the City, each with its own urban advantages, to create a tailored City-geography for their success.
  3. The City’s growth cannot be stopped. Migration to cities—both domestic and international—will continue for decades as people and organizations pursue urban advantage. Most of today’s anti-immigration and anti-migrant campaigns reflect a lack of awareness of the Urban Revolution’s unstoppable, grassroots economic dynamics. Drawn by the inherent economic advantages of urban location, the world’s most entrepreneurial families, ethnic groups, companies, and social and political movements are competing for positions and territorial control across networks of cities. Their diverse strategies to gain advantage through urban location will fuel an increase of world urban populations by two billion more people over the next 25 years. How we govern these city-building populations—whether we empower and enfranchise them as city-builders, or disempower and isolate them in poorly served urban peripheries and parallel cities—will define the social and political dynamics of the 21st century.
  4. At a time of rising dependency on cities, we have forgotten the basics of urbanism. The current economic crisis is ultimately traceable to the rise of a relatively new approach to city building: the industrial batch production of standardized urban “products” for anonymous, increasingly transient consumer groups. We have been witnessing more extreme “busts” at the peaks of urban growth cycles as industrial batch cityscapes have become the dominant transnational development approach. These busts—as in the 1997-8 Asian financial crisis—reflect a growing disconnect between the profit-and-loss equations of individual developers, banks, and governments and the total economics of emerging urban regions. In the United States, the rising cost structure of new, batch-produced suburban cityscapes (measured on a full-cost basis) exceeded real regional increases in income, setting the stage for defaults in both conventional and subprime mortgages. Simultaneously, industrial batch production has been taken to its logical conclusion: growing numbers of large and small investors have participated in the commodification of the city, producing, purchasing, and flipping generic units (i.e., square feet) of “city” for speculative purposes. This approach to urban development runs counter to the fundamentals of urban advantage.
    Urban advantage is created when places are built in customized fashion to support the economic (and/or the social or political) strategies of particular user-communities. To prevent crisis as we build the Cityscape for two billion more people, we must re-establish our capacity for real urbanism. Urbanism is the engagement of user-communities to innovate in urban design, infrastructure, building methods, policy, and governance, establishing customized places of unique value and advantage in the world. Real urbanisms align the different interests who compete for an urban location to co-create efficient, productive, resilient places for living and producing value together.
  5. There are clear reasons why some cities succeed in their ambitious plans—and why so many others underachieve. The success of “Strategic Cities” like Barcelona, Chicago, or Curitiba has nothing to do with hosting the Olympic Games or being a top-ranked business location. The source of their successes is found in their ability to renew or create new urbanisms to address their particular strategies and the unique challenges of their historic legacies, populations, industries, and times. The ways that Strategic Cities develop new urbanisms—explored in the book as their practices of “urban strategy”—also offer strategies to address the City’s biggest challenges: poverty, social exclusion, climate change, resource scarcity, criminality, and insecurity.

About Jeb Brugmann

Jeb Brugmann, Founding Partner of The Next Practice, is a strategist and innovation expert in the fields of business and development, serving major corporations, local governments, and non-profit organizations worldwide. In addition to using a tested, disciplined innovation process developed with leading business thinker Prof. C.K. Prahalad, he focuses on innovation in market analytics, product development, and business modelling to increase local responsiveness and customization as a source of competitive advantage and global problem-solving. With professional experience in 28 countries, he has been a pioneer of new practice domains including urban sustainability and climate change mitigation, ‘base of the pyramid’ (BOP) business development for large low-income market segments, place-based development and social enterprise. In 1990, he founded ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, an international association of 1,200 cities and towns worldwide that are advancing practices in local sustainable development. He served as ICLEI Secretary General from 1991-2000, and as interim Executive Director of ICLEI USA in 2009. In 2004, he co-founded The Next Practice innovation consultancy with Prof. Prahalad. He is speaker to business, government, civic, and academic audiences worldwide and provides executive education as a Senior Associate with the University of Cambridge (UK) Programme for Sustainability Leadership. He has received a variety of distinctions and awards for his international initiatives and publications. His new book, Welcome to the Urban Revolution: How Cities Are Changing the World, was published in 2009.
Jeb has played a particularly pioneering role in three areas of “next practice”:
  • Urban sustainability. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Jeb understood that global urbanization had made cities the geographic “point sources” of global environmental problems. He pioneered the field of “urban sustainability,” founding ICLEI, the international environmental agency for local governments in 1990. Examples: He served as ICLEI secretary general from 1990-2000, establishing its global operations and presence in international policy forums. He led the international community’s adoption of the Local Agenda 21 initiative at the 1992 UN Earth Summit, precursor to the engagement of more than 6,500 cities and towns in 115 countries. In 1992-93 he co-founded the Cities for Climate Protection campaign, a global program that created the methods and supported hundreds of cities to prepare inventories and mitigation plans for their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • “Bottom of the Pyramid” business development. In 2004, Jeb joined renowned business strategist Prof. C.K. Prahalad in establishing The Next Practice and its innovation process for companies seeking to serve large low-income populations at the “bottom of the pyramid.” Examples: He helped bp develop the distribution and retail model for its smokeless biomass stove in rural India, as well as a safe fuel packaging and retailing solution for South African townships. He helped Thomson-Reuters develop their entry plan for a mobile phone-based weather, market pricing, and agricultural information service for small Indian farmers. Brugmann remains a thought leader and active practitioner in this field.
  • Global civil society organization. In the 1980s, during the latter years of the Cold War, Jeb pioneered new ways of organizing transnational cooperation between NGOs and cities internationally. Many of these approaches became civil society modus operandi in the 1990s. Examples: Brugmann responded to the legal marginalization and government harassment of war refugees in the United States by mobilizing scores of U.S. cities to become “Sanctuary Cities.” He developed a nationwide media presence speaking out against narrow-minded anti-immigrant sentiments. He also led establishment of one of the first officially-sanctioned channels for independent U.S.-Soviet civil society relationships in the Reagan-Gorbachev era. He mobilized sub-national governments internationally to protect Earth’s atmosphere through local laws, prodding chemical manufacturers to phase out CFCs and the U.S. government to ratify the UN Montreal Protocol.
Jeb’s work has been financially supported by the governments of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the UN Development Programme, UN Environment Programme, UN-Habitat, the World Bank, hundreds of municipalities, and numerous private foundations. His initiatives have received official praise from the UN General Assembly (1997), the UN Conference on Human Settlements (1996) and the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002). Brugmann’s leadership starting with worldwide Local Agenda 21 initiative won him the Millennium Award (2000) from the European Environment Agency/Princes’ Award Foundation and the Stockholm Partnerships Award (2002) from the City of Stockholm and King of Sweden.

Strategist and Innovation Consultant

Whether through executive leadership or consulting to client organizations, Jeb takes a unique “applied strategy” approach that designs, tests, and institutes the new models and solutions needed translate a client’s strategy into a ‘next’ body of practice in their organization and industry. His partners and clients have included national government agencies, major corporations, cities, United Nations programs, the World Bank, private foundations, and national and international NGOs.

Author and Researcher

Jeb is the author of Welcome to the Urban Revolution: How Cities Are Changing the World (2009), and a contributor to four books on urban sustainability. He has published in Harvard Business Review (winner of the 2007 McKinsey Award for best article) and other peer-reviewed academic journals. He established and was a regular contributor to an extensive series of case studies on urban management best practices. He is a longstanding editorial board member of the journal Local Environment.
Jeb’s work is analytics driven. He has been a principal researcher for multi-year, multi-country action research projects, including the Urban CO2 Reduction Project, a 12-city project to develop the methodology for urban greenhouse gas inventories and mitigation planning; and the Local Agenda 21 Model Communities Program, a 14-city project to develop methods for community-based sustainable development planning. In business practice, he specializes in providing clients with innovative ways to size and segment markets to increase their competitive advantage and operational efficiency. He also specializes in qualitative consumer research for BOP markets.

Teacher and Speaker

Jeb is a Senior Associate of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, and has lectured at other universities in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Brazil, and Australia. His speaking career has taken him to 19 countries. Audiences have included: the IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference; the Front End of Innovation USA Conference; the CIES World Food Business Summit; the Australia Davos Connection; the Association of Management Consulting Firms, the World Bank; the Ministries of Environment of Colombia, Germany, Japan, Korea, and South Africa; the Oxford University Global Economic Governance Programme; the UN World Urban Forum; the World Water Forum.

Father, Outdoorsman, and Handyman

Jeb lives in Toronto with his partner, Saddeiqa, and two sons, Rashad and Kareem, where he operates the family ice hockey shuttle service. Growing up in a community where residents built and maintained their own water system, bridges, and community facilities, Jeb enjoys a periodic hands-on “fix” of construction and landscaping projects. When life permits, he enjoys long distance hiking, canoeing and cross-country skiing. He completed hiking the 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail when he was 16 years old. With a family team including his son, brother and nephew, they competed successfully this year in their first (340 mile) adventure paddling marathon race.