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TED’s Headline Initiative: The City 2.0

Anthony Flint / Mar 03 2012

For Release Sunday, March 4, 2012

Anthony FlintLONG BEACH — The history of cities over the last century is littered with good intentions, from separated-use zoning to urban renewal to more recent interventions such as convention centers, riverwalks, pedestrian malls, and monorails.

Today, while Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle continue to enjoy a resurgence, the rescue of legacy cities such as Youngstown and Camden remains elusive, and megacities in the developing world are best by poverty and troubled slums.

So what makes a glamorous institution like TED think it has anything to offer? The highly ambitious initiative The City 2.0, announced Wednesday at the annual gathering here, suggests a new pathway for gathering ideas and experimentation for the 21st century city, that seeks to be given a chance.

The City 2.0 is a “wish” embodied in the TED Prize for 2012, which has for the last several years been awarded to individuals. Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson prompted the creation of the Encylopedia of Life []. Last year’s winner, the French artist JR, sought to bring art in the city to a new level with portraits of people plastered on walls and buildings in cities throughout across the globe.

This year, the high-profile TED Prize was awarded not to a person but a concept: the creation of an open-source platform connecting citizens, political leaders, urban experts, companies, and organizations. The clearinghouse for tools and methodologies and best practices is at the new website celebrating The City 2.0, a bid for crowdsourced collaboration and civic engagement.

TED curator Chris Anderson frames the initiative with some familiar assumptions. More than half the planet lives in urban areas, and the majority of the projected 9 billion global population will reside in cities in the years ahead. Cities must accommodate this humanity equitably and sustainably, as places of innovation and reduced carbon emissions. Their future, Anderson says, is “the ultimate design challenge.”

A film showing the wishlist for the prize included key phrases on billboards, graffiti and stock market tickers. Its message: “I am the crucible of the future … where humanity will either flourish or fade. Dream me. Build me.” The goal is a platform that combines the reach of the cloud with the power of the crowd, connecting leaders, experts, companies, organizations and citizens, sharing tools, data, designs, successes, and ideas, that can be turned into action.

In announcing The City 2.0, TED called on thought leaders such as Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, Whole Earth Catalog author Stewart Brandt, artist Candy Chang, green building guru William McDonough, and Robert Hammond, co-conceiver of the High Line in New York [].

Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, site of the 2016 Olympics, outlined some key ingredients, which he suggested included ample green space, smart transportation systems such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and integrating his city’s favelas into the formal city.

The initiative is supported by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and its Technology for Engagement Initiative, IBM’s Smart Cities, Razorfish, which designed the website, and Autodesk, which contributed resources to help citizens visualize and actively create transformation in the cities where they live. The Lincoln Institute plans to contribute a forthcoming open-source planning software initiative. Others from Disney to Home Depot’s Living Home prgram will add to the mix.

TED is calling on anyone interested in the future of cities to register and contribute ideas at, and the organization plans to make 10 grants of $10,000, coming out of the $100,000 TED Prize, that will be awarded at TED Global in June 2012 to ten local projects which are most likely to spur the creation of The City 2.0.

At this year’s TED, climate scientist James Hansen presented on what he described as a moral imperative to get carbon emissions under control to avert a future thrown into chaos. T. Boone Pickens described the urgent need to wean ourselves from dependence on foreign oil, suggesting an interim shift to natural gas as a bridge fuel. The world’s cities are at a critical moment and in need of fresh ideas.

The City 2.0 is open-ended and an open tent, clearly intended to let a thousand flowers bloom. The impulse to foster civic engagement, using the best that technology and social networks now has to offer, is honorable. The coming year of implementation, in part using the extensive network of TEDx conferences, will reveal whether the project has legs.

Anthony Flint is a Citistates Associate and fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass. columns are not copyrighted and may be reproduced in print or electronically; please show authorship, credit and send an electronic copy of usage to


  1. Posted March 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    The crowd-sourcing phenomenon applied to cities brightens Jane Jacobs’ famous quote, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

    In this regard I’m intrigued to see what emerges.

    Would be great to see if we can engage thousands of people for this year’s Jane Jacobs Walks on May 5th and 6th to use that weekend as a time to submit ideas while they walk, observe and connect with one another in places they care about. (

    Hope all is well with you Tony. How about hosting a walk in Cambridge this year?

  2. Marc Brenman
    Posted March 3, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    It’s an odd statement that San Francisco is enjoying a resurgence. When did it ever unsurge?

    And the link to the Ted city project just leads to a cutesy video with nice pictures and music– not an opportunity to submit ideas.