Global Issues TED Prize

Cities and the art of listening: Suja Lowenthal at TED2012

Posted by: Ben Lillie


Suja Lowenthal is the Vice Mayor of Long Beach, but she’s also involved in a major project on the other side of the world.

She tells us, in the 2012 TED Prize session, a story of a city that is yet to be. Storytelling is a universal language that “survives through our voice and our hearing.”

There is an African parable about why we have two ears and one mouth: Because listening is the guiding principle. “This principle is lost to us in the constant chatter of the Western world. We speak much and hear little.”

Her story today is about a city that is yet to be. One that she has been dreaming about. One that many of us involved in city making dream about seeing realized. She describes such a dream city through an opportunity to share in the visioning of City for the Future in Free State, a province at the heart of South Africa. She was introduced to this vision of building a new city, the CITY for Tomorrow by John Thomas of P3 International. It will be a city of over half a million, and deeply green — no cars allowed in the center. It will be designed to appeal to a young generation, that appeals to health, education and opportunity. It will be a beautiful modern city built on a blank canvas.

She knows we’re thinking, “I’ve heard this before.” She knows that the future residents are wondering, “What is my future when my past is so wretched?” But she thinks there is hope because the government is taking bold steps to realize a future. They have set aside space for the city — a city not attached to an existing city, so that “it will not be shackled by existing ways of thinking or existing culture.”

The team designed a city. In the first phase there will be 18,000 residents. The city itself is a circle to represent the rising sun — and also to provide efficiency from a design perspective. A walk from anywhere to anywhere is no more than seven minutes.

Children in this city will find that their parents can go to work and come home without having an exhaustive commute. The city will have open, green spaces. There will be options for transportation elsewhere, light rail or communal bycicles. There will be community gardens and recreational spaces.

“This city will happen, but it needs a global community to cheer for it, to stand up and applaud for it. It needs you to contribute to it … Will you dream with me? Will you build with me? Will you make this city of the future real with me? Come.”

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Comments (8)

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  • Laila Sharma commented on Mar 19 2012

    It is a shame that Suja had to steal and lie on stage to get some form of recognition. No one from the Free State contacted Suja 2yrs ago, as the company, namely P3 Africa, that has the contract to build the city in the Free State was not formed! Suja was introduced to the concept by one of the partners, John Thomas. The city was his dream and his idea that Suja stole and claimed as her own. Shame on you Suja, one would expect more honesty and integrity from a Vice Major!!

    Laila Sharma
    Partner P3 Africa

    • Emily McManus commented on Mar 24 2012

      Hi Laila, Nowhere in her talk does Suja claim this idea was her own. Any mistaken impression you received is due to our rapid note-taking. We’ve updated the blog copy to make sure the relationship is clear.

    • Carl Pretorius commented on Apr 16 2012

      Hi Laila. Where is P3 Africa based? I have tried to find them through Google and Linked in. I am interested in finding out more about the city 2.0 in the Free State. Can you send me some information please? Thanks :-)

      • Laila Sharma commented on Apr 16 2012

        Hi Carl, The following link should direct you to P3 International and you can make your request to the management there.


        • Carl Pretorius commented on Apr 16 2012

          Thank for your help with this Laila. Kind regards Carl

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  • Larry Hornel commented on Mar 1 2012

    Yes, it really is a dream city. Something like trying to implement in South Korea and Taiwan, but before the end to do what was planned was not possible. Man alone – being greedy and insatiable, and is able to destroy the most beautiful around. In such a city to settle in for a rigorous psychological screening, people with certain principles. And if you break the rules of this society, it is subject to immediate eviction!
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