Around the Institute

CityLab 2022: An Invitation to Civic Imagination

October 11, 2022  • Daniel R. Porterfield

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered the below remarks during the second day of the CityLab conference on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 in Amsterdam. Follow him on Twitter @DanPorterfield.

Good morning, everyone. I’m Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, and it’s my honor to welcome you to the second day of CityLab.

As you just saw in the video, the City of Amsterdam is a place of innovation and individuality and community. It’s inspiring to see how Mayor Halsema and her team are protecting digital privacy, promoting “doughnut economics,” and investing in nature-based solutions to the dangers of climate change.

Please join me in thanking this great city for its hospitality and its canals and its example.

Let us also thank all who prepared our meals and drove our shuttles and housed us in comfort and designed this stage.

And let us thank all of our Bloomberg-Aspen colleagues who brought this ninth annual summit into being—especially Courtney Greenwald, Noelle Thorn Rinner, Caitlin McGee, Kitty Boone, Elliot Gerson, Ava Hartmann, Natalie Shoultz, Patti Harris, Jim Anderson, and, of course, Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Amsterdam is a city of rich diversity and culture with brick pathways that wind and turn and bridge and lead us into epiphanies we could only have here. The same can be said of this year’s CityLab.

Where else could we have encountered that tender giant of a puppet named Amal whose gift is to awaken empathy?

Where else could we have met two of our planet’s first seven Chief Heat Officers—all women, leading the way—and learn about life-saving new concepts like “shade equity” and “cool route mapping systems”?

And, where else could we have met that TikTok marvel, Shermann Dilla Thomas, who brings the history of his great city right to the palm of our hands?

For me, the spirit running through this convening is civic imagination. Each of us comes here with a vision of something needed, of something better, of something that can be shared. We imagine the futures we want for our beloved communities and then build at CityLab the will and skill and know-how to bring those dreams to life.

Today, CityLab continues our invitation to civic imagination.

We will think together about the urban metaverse and the possibilities around crypto and the roles of storytellers in our cities.

We will learn from two brave Ukrainian mayors what it means to lead and serve and sacrifice in a time of terrorism and trauma and war.

And, in the breaks between our panel discussions and breakouts, we will share hopes and contacts and lessons learned, resources for change-making when we return to where we are called.

About one mile from here, and almost eight decades ago, Anne Frank wrote from her family’s perilous hiding place, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” CityLab reminds us that, across our oceans and cultures and different lives, we believe this, too.

Now it is my pleasure to introduce our first panel discussion, “Facing History to Forge a Brighter Future.”

Some places have chosen to lean into the most difficult chapters of their pasts, finding innovative ways to unearth, examine, and memorialize some of their most wicked and inhumane hours. How should cities grapple with painful chapters from their stories?

Joining us to reflect on this question are three eminent thinkers and leaders:

London Breed, the Mayor of San Francisco;

Piotr Cywinski, the Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Historical Museum;

And, Nancy Jouwe, a cultural historian and author who has examined the history and legacy of slavery in Europe.

I’d now like to welcome our panelists to the stage.