CityLab conference in Detroit is a good sign for the city
The CityLab Detroit conference beginning Sunday could hardly have picked a better town in which to study urban reinvention.
Detroit for all its remaining problems of poverty, joblessness and poor educational achievement nonetheless has demonstrated that smart people really can tackle some of the most pressing urban needs.
Dozens of creative programs have helped Detroit sell side lots to neighborhood residents, turn the failing Eastern Market and Cobo Center into jewels, create a better workforce training pipeline for residents and helped hundreds of entrepreneurs start new businesses.
Those efforts and more will be the focus of CityLab, which attracts dozens of mayors and many other urban experts hoping to see what the host city can teach them. The conference is by invitation only.
In the words of organizers: “CityLab was founded on the principle that the most important innovation is happening at the local level and that global impact can be achieved when cities share solutions.”
CityLab marks a joint effort by the Aspen Institute, The Atlantic magazine and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable effort founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The conference begins Sunday and runs through Tuesday and brings dozens of mayors from the U.S. and cities around the world will attend CityLab, along with business leaders, urban experts, artists, and activists.
In a last-minute change this week, the venue has been switched from the Westin Book Cadillac to the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center because of the strike by hotel workers at the Book Cadillac.
Besides Bloomberg himself, those scheduled to speak during the conference include Mayor Mike Duggan, Quicken Loans founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert, Mary Barra, General Motors chairman and CEO, and Mark Schlissel of the University of Michigan.
The lineup also includes David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times and executive director of the Aspen Institute; James and Deborah Fallows, writers at The Atlantic and authors of “Our Towns,” and the mayors of Athens, Greece, and Santiago, Chile, among many others.
Key topics will include the role of technology and design in urban reinvention; how cities are facing the opioid crisis; and how art and design can move a city forward.
The conference includes field trips to Eastern Market, the Michigan Central Station where Ford plans to transform the depot into a hub of mobility research, the Fitzgerald district on Detroit’s northwest side where the city is using greening strategies to transform a neighborhood, and other sites.
In the official description of the conference: “The event’s programming will draw inspiration from the ongoing story of Detroit — and be infused with the entrepreneurial character of the city.”
Previous CityLab conferences have been held in New York, Los Angeles, London, Miami, and Paris.