Urban Innovation

Urban District

December 5, 2019  • Institute Staff

Global mayors and city innovators joined artists, actors, chefs, and musicians—including Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and James Beard Award–winning chef Kwame Onwuachi—for CityLab 2019 at the Wharf in Southwest DC. For the seventh year, the Institute and its partners at Atlantic Media and Bloomberg Philanthropies hosted CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges, an annual summit dedicated to making cities around the world more livable and culturally vibrant. Previously held in New York, Los Angeles, London, Miami, Paris, and Detroit, this year’s CityLab met in DC over two days with 44 mayors and more than 500 participants from over 160 cities and 30 countries around the world.

Washington is certainly positioned to explore the power dynamics of cities. “We are a city, county, state, and school district all at once,” DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “And that’s a lot of policy and innovation happening in one place.”

CityLab 2019 explored improving maternal health, employing urban technology, designing inclusive cities, reinventing public spaces, preventing gun violence, protecting restaurant and domestic workers’ rights, creating affordable housing, making space for creativity, and supporting democracy and protests. San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, shed light on urban street protests. “I often say that there are no voiceless people, that there are just people that don’t have the appropriate platform,” she said. “I see city hall and my role as providing that platform.”

Attendees also participated in field trips around the region, including to the Digester, the largest facility in the world using THEARC (Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus) in Southeast DC, a collaboration among 14 nonprofit partners and the community to provide services to children and adults living east of the Anacostia River; the National Landing in Northern Virginia, which will be the future home of Amazon HQ2; and a walking tour of the Wharf, this year’s CityLab campus, one of DC’s newest neighborhoods and a massive redevelopment project that transformed the District waterfront.

Participants also attended a special reception at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where they were treated to a performance by the Chuck Brown Band, which created the uniquely DC go-go music. “For us, gogo was a way of life, it was a part of DC culture,” Frank Sirius, the band’s leader, said. “Go-go music is really our stamp, and we’re still here.”

One of the threads running throughout CityLab 2019 was the importance of giving voice to all residents. “I think you need to know about the history of wherever you’re moving into, and about the people you’re pushing out,” said actor Jimmie Fails of The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which illustrates the effects of displacement amid rapid demographic and economic change. “A livable city is a city where people live because they want to, not because they have to,” added Maria Vassilakou, the former deputy mayor of Vienna, Austria, a city that has been named the most livable city in the world. “A city that is good for children is a city that’s good for everybody.”