Global Issues TED Prize

Cities and the art of listening: Suja Lowenthal at TED2012

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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