CityLab DC Commences as Mayors, City Leaders and Activists Discuss Housing Affordability, the Future of Transportation, Inclusive Planning and Social Equity

October 28, 2019

Presented by the Aspen Institute, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Philanthropies

Media Relations Contacts:
Anna Bross and Hugo Rojo
The Atlantic

Courtney Greenwald
Bloomberg Philanthropies

Jon Purves
The Aspen Institute

Washington, DC, October 28, 2019— Today, CityLab DC, the preeminent summit on global cities organized by The Aspen Institute, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, kicked off its 7th annual two-day conference in Washington, D.C. This event brings together city leaders from around the world, along with renowned experts, to explore the challenges facing global urban centers through a diverse series of panel discussions, keynotes, workshops, and field trips. Leaders in local government, arts and culture, business, and technology joined the first day’s events to share and discuss the ways in which cities are integrating innovative approaches to tackle these challenges and improve the lives of residents.

CityLab DC opened with an energetic performance by Step Afrika!, a nationally ranked dance company that blends traditional African dance with modern influence.

Following welcome remarks by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Mayor of New York City from 2002-2013 Michael R. Bloomberg was interviewed about “Cities as Catalysts,” highlighting the leading role cities and their ideas play in driving innovation to address the unmet needs of residents.

“There’s a demand for services that the public can understand, knows how to ask for, and knows how to hold the leaders responsible,” said Bloomberg.  “And those leaders are the mayors. All of the money might come down from the top, where you have the most pricing and taxing power. Mayors are where the solutions are. A bad mayor can take a city in the wrong direction and making it very hard to recover. A good mayor can make a difference.”

During a conversation about the day’s news with Margaret Brennan of CBS News, she asked whether he supported impeachment. Bloomberg responded, “I do. If he did get impeached, he certainly would not get convicted. But I do think that it’s gotten so far, there’s so many real questions about inappropriate actions that the public deserves to have Congress do what it was put in place by the Founding Fathers to provide oversight.”

Now in its seventh year, 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.

Highlights and commentary from featured leaders and experts include:

  • Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr of Freetown, Sierra Leone, was interviewed by Aspen Institute President & CEO Dan Porterfield about her mission to bring continued transformation to Freetown in the wake of several challenges. The discussion delved into how the Mayor and the city’s leaders have been working to keep pace with their rapidly growing urban center following an Ebola epidemic, devastating deforestation and mudslides, and strained resources. “I came into a city, into this position with statistics – 6% of liquid waste was being collected, 21% of solid waste, 38% of children under the age of 5 dying from malaria. 75% of my population are under the age of 35, but 60-65% of them are unemployed or underemployed,” Mayor Aki-Sawyerr said. “We have a long way to go. But the good news is that for our eleven priority sectors, we had, in my first two months, focus groups with 15k residents in 322 communities and we talked about what we wanted to do.”
  • Jimmie Fails, Lead Actor of the critically acclaimed film “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” spoke about his depiction of a young man’s struggle to come to terms with the changing face of his hometown with Derek Thompson of The Atlantic. The conversation examined how cities around the world are changing rapidly and how the film captures the challenges residents face as the place they call home evolves right before their eyes. “I think that it’s important to try to preserve the culture and the people and make the cities affordable,” said Fails. “Artists are the people that move the culture forward and make the city unique. It’s important to have that. It’s important to preserve those values and the people that make the city what it is.”
  • PBS NewsHour Anchor Amna Nawaz led an in-depth panel discussion on epidemic of gun violence in American cities and the efforts to prevent and address gun violence with the mayors of San Jose, Louisville, and Topeka. Mayor Michelle de la Isla of Topeka spoke about her city’s efforts around youth engagement. Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville focused on educating and mobilizing residents around the issue. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo discussed meaningful legislation and the changes current underway in his city.
  • Roger Enriquez, Associate Professor & Director, College of Public Policy, University of Texas at San Antonio helped lead a conversation on affordable housing challenges and economic mobility with Fernando Godinez, CEO, Mexican American Unity Council and Giridhar Mallya, Senior Policy Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The panel looked at how issues in securing home titles for a family can create a barrier to wealth transmission, and hamper economic mobility for low-income people and people of color in gentrifying neighborhoods. San Antonio’s experiences helped serve as a case study as to how growing cities can help eliminate these obstacles.
  • Affordable housing success stories continued as Vienna’s former Deputy Mayor Maria Vassilakou gave a keynote address on the city’s 60-year commitment to affordable housing and pioneering work on inclusive planning. “Vienna engaged in social housing years ago. Today, 62% of our population lives in affordable or subsidized housing. But It’s not just about numbers; it’s also about the quality,” said Vassilakou. “When we talk about the livability of an already built city, we are talking about public spaces.”
  • Go-Go music, created by Chuck Brown in the 1970’s, is considered a symbol of pride and unity for the local Black community. As D.C. sees the nation’s highest rate of gentrification, Frank Sirius, Band Leader of the Chuck Brown Band, and Natalie Hopkinson, Howard University Professor and Author of “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City,” discussed how local culture is intertwined with and affected by gentrification, and how cities can embrace economic growth while respecting existing traditions. The panel, moderated by The Atlantic’s Gillian White, closed with a special live performance of Go-Go music by the Chuck Brown Band.
  • Monty Hoffman, Founder & CEO of PN Hoffman, spoke with CityLab editor Nicole Flatow about the years-long development of The Wharf, home to this year’s event. The discussion addressed how public-private partnerships can be successful – and what can be improved – in creating a new, inclusive brand in a historically complex city. “We were going for a space where people want to stay, where they’re not being intimidated,” said Hoffman. “I think architecture and technology should serve the people, and not the other way around.”
  • The Atlantic’s James Fallows moderated a discussion with Sidewalk Labs’ Head of Urban Systems Rohit Aggarwala, General Manager of LADOT Seleta Reynolds, and the City of Amsterdam’s Lead Public Tech Aik van Eemeren on the kinds of practical, financial, and ethical issues that arise in the smart city process and what tools leaders have available to make smart decisions. The leaders, each from a different country, discussed the approaches they take in ensuring cities, companies, and people can responsibly use data for better outcomes.
  • Focusing on one of the most talked-about technological developments in cities today, Axios’s Kim Hart led a lightning talk with Dan Ammann, CEO of Cruise Automation, to discuss the future of the automotive industry and the impact of self-driving cars on cities. “Because this technology is so transformational, we recognize very clearly that this is something we need to work on with the community, with cities, with society – and deploy this in a very collaborative and joint effort,” said Ammann. The session was presented by General Motors.
  • In honor of the 10th anniversary of the Cities of Service program, Mauricio Garcia, Deputy Director of Cities of Service, presented the 2019 Engaged Cities Award to Flint, Michigan; Plymouth, United Kingdom; and San Francisco, California. The winning cities developed and implemented bold, new strategies to address long-standing challenges such as blight, infrastructure, and civic capacity. Each city is awarded $75,000 in recognition of groundbreaking co-creation projects with residents. “We launched the award so that we could learn from more cities,” said Garcia. “It helped us greatly expand the network of local leaders that were able to connect with each other, so that they can benefit from each other’s experiences and improve upon each other’s work. The winning cities have been so thoughtful and deliberate about partnering with their residents that they made it seem really easy, and it’s not easy at all.”
  • Kate Levin and Janette Sadik Khan of Bloomberg Associates discussed the Asphalt Art Guide, a first-of-its-kind manual about public art in cities. They were joined by Tony Garcia, Principal of the tactical urbanism firm Street Plans, who partnered with Bloomberg Associates to develop the book, and Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland, California, to share key insights and real artist and city experiences that shaped the manual’s creation.
  • Richard Florida, co-founder and editor at large of CityLab, moderated a panel focusing on the future of urban technology. Anthony Townsend, Author, “Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia,” and Molly Turner, Lecturer, Berkeley Haas School of Business, talked about the development of unicorn companies and their impact on cities, how a city can be a vehicle for innovative companies, and what mayors can do as these companies mature.

Other highlights included:

  • A conversation on Cities & Tech with an in-depth look at some of the most pressing technological challenges and opportunities for cities. Panel topics included the effects of increased ransomware attacks on cities, the promise versus reality of implementing 5G, and insights on how cities use surveillance to solve problems while keeping their citizens privacy safe.
  • A panel of U.S. and international mayors shared strategies for fighting the climate crisis from city halls around the world, with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkin, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori, led by Ross Andersen, Deputy Editor, The Atlantic.

Press Assets:

Live stream: To watch a full recording of the day visit the CityLab DC event website: All plenary programming tomorrow is being streamed live on the event website.

Photos & Videos: Bloomberg Philanthropies photos are available for download and use via Flickr: Credit: CityLab, Bloomberg Philanthropies. We will make available rush video clips and selects from plenary sessions. We’re happy to provide photos from our photographer upon request. Credit: CityLab DC.

Social: Follow along on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with #CityLabDC, @AtlanticLIVE and @AspenInstitute, @BloombergDotOrg


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