Ever since I can remember, people have told me that we must accept the status quo and that there is little cause for optimism about the future. That the world is the way it is. I've never been able to accept that idea.
I believe that there is cause for optimism in what often seems like a runaway world. I believe that cities and city leaders need more imagination, more originality, different structures and ways of working and new approaches to make the most of their cultural assets. Global Cities was established to do exactly that.
These days we hear a lot about futures and trends in technology and restructuring economies all packaged in various parcels of sunshine or doom. A lot of it is hype and a lot more of it is wishing today away through pipe dreams of the future. But a lot of it is necessary and some of it holds practical solutions and clear avenues to making the world a better place.
So when it comes to solving big challenges or seeking purposeful initiatives that make a difference to where and how we live we have good cause for optimism. The world has changed significantly for the better in my own lifetime, there are still problems, but there are many more solutions created by technological advance and good old-fashioned human ingenuity.
This moment in human history may be more important than any other. With greater concentrations of people living in cities, we’ve increased our chances of improving our lot. We are increasingly building cosmopolitan societies across the globe which seek and build open governance structures, which search for purposeful economic activity as well as places which nurture ideas, culture and buzz. Whether that’s transforming how we produce and consume energy or applying new technologies to old problems, we have the ingenuity to get on with it, but we need to develop a transformational perspective.
Change isn’t just incremental. It can happen suddenly and in leaps and bounds. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 ending a protracted period of ideological extremes, at the same time South African apartheid came to an end, and in the past 20 years more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty. Many people of my generation were encouraged to think that all tomorrow had to offer was the coming nuclear winter. None of this has come to pass. What else could be possible within our lifetimes? Democracy in China by 2025? Why not?
The great adventurer, polymath and wanderer Patrick Leigh Fermor understood the importance of seeing the world through the eyes of others. As a young man he set off across Europe on a cosmopolitan adventure the like of which may never be seen again, during that journey he witnessed close-up the shift from one era into another.
There is a sense of perspective to be gained in viewing the world through other cultures, something to be learned from making the strange familiar and the familiar strange. I have travelled to over 40 countries across 5 continents and I can’t escape the conclusion that for all the differences and variety we generate in cultural practice we often agree and seek similar goals of progress towards a better life. I believe that cities nurture this cosmopolitan perspective and that we will see it grow throughout the 21st century. I believe that we will develop greater cosmopolitan perspective, but it then needs to translate into better and bolder ideas of global citizenship.
Let us not rest, there is much to do.