CityLab Paris 2017 – Placing young children on the stage of global urban innovation

Published December 5, 2017 – by Julien Vincelot

The mayors of Bogotá, Austin, Quito and Tulsa were among high-profile city leaders who participated in BvLF’s Urban95 breakfast at CityLab Paris last month. The event as a whole drew around 500 urban decision-makers, from municipal administrations, businesses and civil society. Organised yearly by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Aspen Institute and the Atlantic, CityLab discusses innovations in urban design, planning and policy.

This year, BvLF was not only a participant but an underwriter. We had two aims. One was to keep our finger on the pulse of contemporary urban trends. We found that the main topics on mayors’ minds included sustainability, non-motorised transport, safety, anti-terrorism and civic engagement. We gleaned useful knowledge that will impact our Urban95 concept and how we engineer its intersection with existing urban agendas.

The other, of course, was to get people thinking about young children. Pretty much every topic up for discussion at CityLab – from technological innovation to sustainable development in transport and energy, from refugee integration to health – has an impact on young children. We set out to encourage participants to think about urban decisions also from the perspective of their city’s youngest citizens.

Beyond the Urban95 breakfast event, we took every opportunity to engage participants in discussions and make horizontal connections. Topics on which I managed to launch the most in-depth discussions included street design for safety with parkour associations, children’s participation in local planning with civic engagement facilitators, and data visualisation for better decision-making with researchers.

The networking felt successful. People were interested and engaged, and our newly developed Urban95 Starter Kit provided a useful resource and reference point for conversations. We also gleaned useful information about how to make future iterations of the Starter Kit more useful for its intended audience: we will, for example, work to increase clarification on issues of costs, actors and levels of implementation.

One thing I would hope to see at the next CityLab is more attention for the fast-growing cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America, where innovation can often be most impactful but which tend to be under-represented in discussions on the global stage. We left CityLab feeling confident that we had made progress in popularising the Urban95 concept, and that our knowledge production can allow us to bring something new to the urban field.