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Published on January 5th, 2015 | by Giovanni COLLOT | Credit: Web Gallery of Art

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“The key for cities’ success? High quality of life for all” – Interview with Marcel Prunera Colomer

In an increasingly global knowledge-oriented economy, cities, where the most innovation happens, have to compete in creating, retaining and attracting talent, be them entrepreneurs, highly skilled or creative people. The most successful a city is in establishing the right conditions to appeal to talents, the best it will thrive in the world economy.

But how can cities develop the right mix of ingredients to become (or remain) successful? The New European discussed this issue with Marcel Prunera Colomer, co-founder and Managing Partner of Imacity, a Barcelona-based consultancy company working in social and economic urban development in cities and regions around the world.

Could you describe Imacity’s work?

Imacity is a consultancy company. We work for cities, governments, multilateral organisations, private foundations, or any kind of organisation working for the general interest. In Imacity, we understand sustainable urban development as a complex process which must guarantee progress, opportunities and an adequate standard of living for the greatest possible majority.

Our focus lies on cities development because they are the essential unit where development and growth happen and policies become concrete. Interculturalism, economic development, social innovation, are all basically coming up in cities.

In today’s globalised economy, cities face the challenge of driving or declining. Which are the main ingredients for a successful, smart and innovative city?

It is difficult to point out only one clear, fit-all recipe. It is more a combination of ingredients, some of which are economic dynamism, entrepreneurship, knowledge, intercultural wealth, globalised network, mobility, good social policies, balanced neighbourhoods…

Defining success is not easy: some might consider economic attractiveness as one key driver of success, others social balance, others quality of life, others still a mix of those three drivers.

Imacity is based on the belief that not only integrating diversity is fair, but that it is also economically smart and profitable. What is diversity’s economic advantage?

We live in an increasingly complex world, and complexity is better accommodated through diversity. Especially entrepreneurship, the base of any dynamic economy, develops mainly in diverse societies.

Cultural diversity brings assets to work in a globalised world. All successful cities – I would say even successful companies –, are diverse places: they host citizens of all kinds, students and entrepreneurs from far away, which in turn brings lots of visitors and attracts talents.

Think about today’s leading entrepreneurial cities: San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Boston in the US; London, Berlin, Barcelona in Europe. They are all diverse or cosmopolitan cities, open to the world. Their added value is not only given by the fact that being diverse attracts talent, but also that diversity begets entrepreneurship among citizens. In all cities, immigrants represent a relevant percentage of their entrepreneurial dynamism.

You have acquired a long experience in dealing with cities, both all around Europe and beyond. What are the common features you noticed in diversity management? Are there solutions that can be exported?

The first aspect to point out is that each case should be managed in a unique way, magic formulas do not exist. But certainly, there are a lot of solutions that can be exported: cities that are balanced in terms of infrastructures, public spaces, education, economic activity, and are able to better manage their diversity.

For example, one of our most important products is to develop so-called anti-rumours policies, i.e. a series of projects aimed at combating negative and unfounded rumours and stereotypes that have an adverse effect on living in diversity. We have recently contributed to the creation of Barcelona’s successful anti-rumours policy and now we are helping cities in Europe and America develop similar policies. An anti-rumour policy is a diversity-management solution which can work effectively anywhere worldwide.

Also, what is easily exportable and adaptable to different reality is our experience in dealing with competitiveness strategies, especially processes where there is participation or negotiation with social agents, or developing entrepreneurship programmes in public health care systems and organisations.

How does Imacity imagine the cities of the future?

Future cities will be crowded, because population is dramatically concentrating in cities. Medium-sized cities with all facilities or balanced neighbourhoods in big metropolitan areas will probably be the goal for everyone. Quality of life will still be, at the end, the main driver to take into consideration.

In Europe, the debate will focus more and more on how to provide relevance to pedestrians, bicycles and public transport. In other words, on how to guarantee that density combine with neighbourhoods to have a good mix of services, houses, businesses, cultural centres, together with a high quality of public spaces. This requires, though, having a global approach to urban development and developing long term strategies.

There is also a need for some political leadership that manages to have a more collaborative approach with civil society and is capable of building partnerships with the private sector to work together for common goals.

Sadly, we will still see many segregated and disconnected areas where the most vulnerable citizens will be concentrated, as a result of a lack of equal opportunities. Having ambitious policies to bring dignity and provide higher quality of life to all should be a key priority.

This post is an extract from an article published in issue 3 of UNITEE’s magazine, The New European, entitled “Divercities”. The complete online version can be read for free here.

You can find more information on Imacity’s projects on their website.

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