Co-designing the cities of the future, impressions from the Cities2050 conference

“Innovation in the public sector is a trending new wave, one which brings us closer to co-creating with citizens and events such as these are a wonderful opportunity to look at the future of cities, to go beyond several years of planning and engage in meaningful conversations on how to develop strategies and solutions that will best fit the needs of the future citizen.” said Mr. Krzysztof Żuk, Mayor of Lublin as he opened the Miasta 2050 — Cities of the Future conference.

You would image that Lublin, a relatively small city (350 000 citizens), located in the eastern part of Poland would be the least likely place to cover such a trending topic around Europe and organize an event combining the expertise of a range of speakers from across the world.

But, you as well as I, will be surprised of the things that Lublin is doing, starting from their deep rooted in practice vision of being a “City of Inspiration”.

The conference itself, majorly focused around presenting the results of the foresight for cities, a topic covered by Justyna Król from Urban Workshop also hosted experts in such areas as co-production, development of technological and social tools and gathered Polish city representatives, civic sector and local administration institutions, NGO’s, business owners, citizens, students and activists alike.

One goal was in common — discuss how we can anticipate and prepare for the cities of the future.

Justyna Król, Urban Workshop (left), Prof. Garry Hassan, Glasgow 2020 (center), Krzysztof Żuk, Mayor of Lublin (right)

Perceptions make up our reality” echoed throughout the room as Mr. Vytautas, Designer & Researcher at Superflux, an innovative company which specializes in translating future uncertainty into present day choices began his keynote speech. “We as an organization try to bring futures closer, to make them tangible so that they can be perceived, seen, felt” he argued, playing with our imagination and glimpsing at what cities and daily life might look like in 30 years from now.

Vytautas Jankauskas, Superflux

Having set the tone of the event and brought down barriers about what we can imagine, the conference jumped to talks about narratives and stories behind initiatives such as the shaping of Glasgow 2020, a project of mass imagination’ — one which shows how new media, and community outreach, could be combined to generate and sustain the new culture of seriousness.”.

Topics such as social innovation, co-production with citizens and their role in creating better communities as well as interesting viewpoints for example on Urban Management or on direct citizen engagement in decision making (I.E the Citizens’ jury initiative) were also discussed.

To me personally, an interesting part was the showcase of Philips Lighting Poland, a company which supports local citizens through smart technology; a clear example of what is the opportunity for private companies to impact lives when thinking past the traditional CSR, especially when partnered with the right stakeholders.

And of course, there were we — SkopjeLab joined by our colleagues from the Rustavi Innovation Hub talking about how to set-up and run an Innovation Lab within a local government, the underpinning reasons behind it such as the rising complexity of today’s citizens and the technological pace with which (especially small) cities need to keep up with.

Aleksandar Lazovski, SkopjeLab & Milutin Risteski, City of Skopje speaking of the “Why’s and How’s of setting up an Innovation Lab”

By showing the work of these small but flexible units within government we intended to show not only their impact on re-designing services but also in shaping problem solving mindsets and introducing the culture of innovation within public administrations. Hearing from the employees of the Innovation Labs was one thing but sincerely refreshing was to hear the opinion of direct employees in the public sector and get a real feel of how much a unit such as a Hub or a Lab helps in addressing local government challenges.

All in all, these kinds of events are an amazing space for knowledge transfer but they are also a valuable opportunity to as Ms. Louise Pulford, director of Social Innovation Exchange masterfully put it “realize we are not alone in the desire to change the world”. A great wind in the back to continue tirelessly working on what we think matters most.

Louise Pulford, Social Innovation Exchange — Innovative city networks

And in this quest to introduce and really meaningfully re-imagine the modern role of government through co-creation with citizens we need to be together, connected and supported as organizations, as cities and as friends.

The future can be glimpsed and studied but let us not forget about the impact and actions we can do today.

You can view videos of the event & the speakers on the following Facebook page.

Written by:

Aleksandar Lazovski, Corporate Partnership Specialist — SkopjeLab.

@SkopjeLab is experimental and collaborative space of City of Skopje for co-designing and prototyping local public policies and services in Skopje, Macedonia.