A Global Urban Commons — Now’s The Time

Cities know how to find novel approaches, to be incubators of innovation, engines of change.  But they operate in geographic silos.  They need to develop much quicker, more efficient ways to communicate, interact, learn from each other across continents in a global city dialogue on cutting edge policies, planning, construction, social policies.  And to tap not just the skills and experience of outstanding government officials, but also civil society — business, professionals, youth, students, environmentalists, change-agents within governments, slum-dwellers’ groups.  New voices can start to breach the wall of city governments’ unresponsiveness and sometimes outright corruption.  Today the challenge is to build networks, challenge old truths, create trust, identify common ground.

So what’s the tool to do all that?  To me it’s compelling: For global communication, to break old orders and forge new, the Internet represents an invention of breathtaking potential.  The world-wide Web opens the doors of idea exchange to a vast array of cities’ stakeholders.  Face-to-face meetings, though valuable, become less indispensable.  And literally everyone — official, unofficial, activist, academic, even we journalists — can join the conversations.

I’ve looked carefully at existing web sites of such organizations as City Mayors, Metropolis, Global Forum, Cities Alliance, ICLEI, Sister Cities and others, as well as sites of Urban Age, the Urban Age Institute, World Changing, the WorldWatch Institute, Ashoka and others.  Each has strong  features to recommend it, and provides a substantial research source.

But as a journalist, I think we also need the equivalent of a weekly or twice-a-week newspaper on the Internet that puts first focus on drawing a broad range of readers into stories – well-crafted, compelling stories of people, groups, alliances making breakthroughs.  Stories bright and accessible on the one hand.  But on the other hand providing links to the substantive factual backup often provided by the kind of existing city-oriented sites mentioned above.  And/or to universities, NGOs, and groups of urban entrepreneurs.

So why, I’m asking, couldn’t we have a global Internet news source focused broadly– across many topic areas — on city breakthroughs?  A Global Urban Commons perhaps?

The time’s especially appropriate – check, for example, articles by Gordon Feller and Tim Campbell on the web page Urban Age Magazine.

How would viewership be promoted?  To my mind, by the high quality and readability of items selected.

Looking for a starting core of interested, committed readers and correspondents, I’d look first to the 200 or so people who attended the Bellagio Global Urban Summit sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation during the summer of 2007.  But with the right partnerships and outreach, I believe thousands around the United States and the world could be recruited in relatively short order.

Just one caution: to succeed, such a venture would need both high journalistic standards and editorial freedom.  Those are the qualities that have always drawn people to quality newspapers and magazines.  For all the newness and instant global outreach the Internet offers, readers/viewers will always value — and more often act on — news sources that exude both quality and independence.