CityLab conference welcomes over 600 international and national city leaders, architects, business innovators and more to downtown Detroit.
By Taylor Morris
The sixth annual CityLab conference took place this past week at the Detroit Marriott in the Renaissance Center. Over 600 city leaders, business innovators, practitioners, artists and other civic leaders travelled nationally and internationally to downtown Detroit — representing 156 cities across 27 counties. Mayors travelled from Athens, Greece and Palermo, Italy as well as U.S. cities such as Seattle and Anchorage.
The purpose of the summit was to discuss future and current urban issues throughout the world. The two-day conference that ended Tuesday was organized by the Aspen Institute, The Atlantic and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Participants attended sessions, workshop-style breakout groups, networking events and field trips around Detroit to places such as the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project, the Cass Community Social Services’ tiny house community, The Empowerment Plan and more.
Nearly 120 speakers engaged in meaningful conversations based around one overall theme: “opportunity.” Session topics included: how technology and design can inspire or inhibit personal freedom, gun violence in cities, affordable housing, higher education, and mobility and accessibility.
Speakers included former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Hannah Beachler, a production designer for films like “Moonlight” and “Black Panther,” among others.
Kerry Doyle, director of the Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at the University of Texas at El Paso, spoke on a “Two Countries, Two Cities, One Community” panel. She discussed her involvement with the Border Tuner project, “a cross-border artistic collaboration” with Montreal-based artist Rafeal Lozano Hemmer. According to the project’s website, the art installation is designed to interconnect El Paso and Ciudad Juárez to highlight the “long-standing collaboration between the two cities and two countries.”
Doyle says CityLab Detroit has been a great way to hear innovations at the city level. She says during the summit she saw a lot of interesting proposals and work being done.
“One of the things I’ve really thought a lot about in the last couple of years is that we don’t have a lot of control over the national conversation and, a lot of times, over national policies,” she says. “But we can make really important changes at the city level, even when other things are happening at the federal level.”
Doyle adds that Detroit is an innovative city, and it’s changed immensely since she was last here 20 years ago.
“The opportunity to show the city off and all of these good things that are happening here is great,” Doyle says. “It’s great for us to see Detroit as a model.”
Founded in 2013, this is the first time CityLab has taken place in a heartland city. Past summits were hosted in Paris, Miami, London, Los Angeles and New York.