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How can TED Fellows help build The City 2.0? A roundtable

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Photo: James Duncan Davidson

The TED Prize Wish, revealed today at TED2012, asks global citizens to help the world’s cities to become inclusive, innovative, healthy, soulful and thriving. To help make this happen, TED is offering an online platform that will allow people to sign up, register skills and interest, and connect with each other, allowing everyone from organizations to ordinary citizens to share resources and ideas. We asked a few of the TED Fellows what they thought of the Wish, and how they think they might be able to contribute.

With thanks to contributing Fellows:

Mitchell Joachim – architect and urban designer of ecological future cities, working on the master plan of downtown Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Navy Yard waterfront

Adrian Hong – human rights entrepreneur

Laurel Braitman – science historian and writer, researching mental health in non-human animals

Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz – culture curator, publisher of Gopher Illustratedmagazine

Damian Palin – biominerologist, working on ways to mine minerals from solution, using microorganisms

Zena el Khalil – artist, writer, cultural activist

What are your thoughts and feelings about the City 2.0 TED Prize wish?

MJ: First reaction: Whoooooohooooo! The topic is brilliant and one that is incredibly important.

AH: I’m excited to see how the platform can help closet innovators unleash their potential and bring about progress for those around them. I’m also looking forward to global efforts to build on projects and ideas from others a world away.

LB: Urban spaces are one of the most interesting spaces for interaction between humans and other animals, from pets to wildlife. This might be an opportunity incorporate animals into the contemporary urban environment in new and exciting ways.

ZeK: To be honest, I worry that the plan doesn’t fully take into account cities in the developing world. Problems in cities like Beirut, Mumbai, Beijing have very specific problems – political, geographical, religious. The speakers today spoke about dreams, which is beautiful, but I would have liked to hear more concrete solutions for cities that are really struggling today. And we should be talking about the cities of the Middle East.

DP: I think it’s a a timely topic as influxes of people into cities put pressure on transport, food, sanitation. I don’t quite understand how the platform works technically, but starting at the grassroots makes a lot of sense. I don’t know at the moment how TED means to implement this. But if they mobilize a mass conversation, something interesting could come of it.

What can you offer to this call to action?

MJ: Terreform ONE, our nonprofit Brooklyn urban think tank, produces research to promote radical perspectives that speculate on tomorrow’s cities. We will partner with the City 2.0 platform to infuse our local endeavors with needs that incorporate global value systems. The city is not any one single pretty plan but an evolving web of life. Our challenge will be to produce and re-produce versions of the urban realm that are 100 percent sustainable for the planet’s populations. For this city to engage our desires, it must be about massive intensity within density.

LB: One project I’m working on now is how we can engage with urban wildlife, such as raccoons. Racoons are smart, they’re evolved to work with people, they get into all sorts of trouble. But they’re also amazing waste recyclers – they eat our trash. I plan to work with an architect to create a raccoon trash can that allows them to access the waste food without overturning trash cans, while keeping food out of landfills.

DP: I live in Singapore, where my work is about accumulating minerals out of desalination brine – mining urban systems. Currently we mine natural resources, but I think in future we’ll need to mine urban systems. I’d certainly be willing, maybe in an education or skill-sharing capacity, to discuss organisms, how to culture bacteria and what we use them for, and other processes.

ZeK: I try to inspire people to stay human, step away from borders, ideologies, stereotypes. At the end of the day, we are all made of the same substance, and borders don’t mean anything. I hope my work can contribute to making a more connected city.

What features would you most like to see in your ideal sustainable city?

MJ: Anything that is accountable for light, air, energy, food, water, waste, mobility and freedom. Simply put, infrastructure will be the new spectacle. The productive spaces that keep us and the Earth healthy will be the guiding force behind this initiative.

AH: Smaller, localized stores, shops, and neighborhoods where people actually know each other’s names, and depend on one another again.

LB: I would like to see urban wildlife not demonized. Possums, raccoons, squirrels and rats actually provide services to urban humans. They’re not only vectors for disease: they’ve lived with us for a very long time; they enjoy living with us. I would like to identify the ways they benefit a contemporary urban ecosystem and partner with them rather than eliminating them.

LGR: In a recent issue of my magazine, I asked fellow Fellow Candy Chang, “What simple step could make any city more livable?” She said, “Just have more places to sit.” Very simple ideas like that can make an actual difference. I also think we can learn a lot from cities that accept street art, such as murals – a low-cost solution to create more human spaces. I’d love to see law and legislation that would help artists leave a mark on their cities without being prosecuted.

DP: Fewer people. I’ve lived in congested cities, and I don’t enjoy it. My ideal city would the right scale. I’d like city that’s not too big or crowded, but one of an optimum size, where you have a balance of infrastructure and population and cultural interest. I’d like someone to look at the right scale.

ZeK: In my ideal city, I could go into a bar where a great concert is happening, and have a conversation that could change my perspective on the world – and regardless of background, religion or preconceptions, come out friends.