The Wealth of Nations: The Wealth of Cities

06 September 2012, Jamaica

Local Resources as Drivers for Urban and Global Futures: Building on Historic Urban LandscapesOur world will increasingly be an urban world. Not only will more people live in urban areas – at present already more than half of the world population -, but also will the source of prosperity, of employment and of resource efficiency increasingly be found in urban areas. Our world needs cities to survive and to create a sustainable future.

The city – or in a broader context metropolitan areas – exerts a great diversity of centripetal and centrifugal forces through which it generates an unprecedented wealth of external benefits, not only to its residents and local businessmen, but also to a wider set of economic actors.

These benefits are partly economic in nature, but also partly social, cultural or technological. To exploit such benefits, a creative attitude – or in more general terms, a creative class – is needed that is able to lay the foundations for wealth creating activities of all urban actors involved. In summary, a creative city is a conditio sine qua non for a healthy, wealthy and sustainable future of our earth.

More and more city development is depending on local resources. They constitute the overall wealth of the cities. Local resources are the territory, as a living eco-system, cultural and artistic heritage, historic landscape; they are natural and man-made forms of capital. Some of them can be recognized as "commons".

Other key local resources are human capital (individual and social creativity), and social capital (the density of interpersonal relationships, the level of trust, confidence, etc.). They are key component of the wealth of cities, because they contribute strongly to wealth city creation. A strong community is an important engine of the wealth of city. The challenge is to promote synergies among them, for implementing creative, resilient and sustainable urban futures, in a time of increasing urbanization and to develop evidence based research. The above all give also scientific support to the goals of the World Urban Campaign of UN Habitat.

Clearly, cities are not only engines of economic progress, but they are also the places where cultural heritage is prominently present.

The notion of Historic Urban Landscape proposed by UNESCO is a new interesting approach to local resources centred development. It is based on the idea that cities are complex, dynamic and adaptive systems. It suggests an integrated perspective between the old city and modern city, between the ancient and new architecture, between man-made and environmental capitals, all oriented toward city regeneration and revitalization.

It includes natural, man-made, human and social landscapes, that define the specific attractiveness profile of a city.

A good urban landscape is based on a good and functioning economic system. A good economic functioning system is based on efficient circular processes.

Good practices exist in the conservation of cultural heritage and historic landscape (also in UNESCO cities: see for example Liverpool, Amsterdam, Glasgow, etc.). They should be carefully assessed in their capacity to combine and balance intangible values and economic ones and in identifying new tools, able to implement UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape approach. Other best practices produce empirical evidence about the circularization of economic processes and in organizing value creation in a new no-conventional way (civil economy praxis, civil economy experience, etc.). The perspective is a new urban economic base, founded on “relational principle”, that is on synergies among three different interdependent circuits of value creation: industrial economy, heritage/knowledge economy and civil economic systems (that is characterized by circles/loops of changes).

The open workshop will address in particular research on a new economic relational/circularized urban base, starting from port cities, where the potential of creativity seems to be greater for integrating economic growth, ecological preservation and social opportunities in a win-win-win strategy.