When Great Minds Meet
A social entrepreneur, an oil and gas executive, and a politician walk into a conference in Detroit…so what happens next? The short answer: when great minds meet, creative ideas emerge.
With about 350 in attendance, the recent Meeting of the Minds
(MOTM) summit convened a network of individuals from 12 countries representing leaders, doers, and experience brokers covering the spectrum of the urban landscape. Detroit’s decline from a city with among the nation’s highest per capita income in 1960 to one with the highest poverty rate in 2013 has been a global topic. But Detroit’s bankruptcy, corruption, and decline were not on the agenda, except as they relate to inventive partnerships that have paved the way for renewal. Detroit is one among many other urban cities in various stages of renewal, which provides opportunities to build, as one participant stated, "new, different, and better cities."
It is estimated that by 2050 three-quarters of the world’s population will live in urban areas. The United States is among the countries with the greatest projected population growth in urban areas in the next few decades.
So how do a social entrepreneur, a gas and oil executive, and a politician find common ground upon which to build new, different, and better cities?
The Social Entrepreneur
Pashon Murray, founder of Detroit Dirt
and MIT Media Lab
Fellow, believes that composting is social, economical, and environmental; and that it is indeed “cost-effective earth protective.” Enduring in her resolve and armed with the patience of one that understands seedtime and harvest, Pashon has partnered across sectors that would normally have no work in common by focusing on what they do have in common: waste.
Detroit Dirt collects 15-20 yards of herbivore manure from the Detroit Zoological Society to help create its product – nutrient-rich compost. Integrating what she has learned over the years, and with an eye on industries with zero waste landfill-free polices, Pashon partnered with General Motors to collect food waste from one of its plants. Her partnerships with restaurants to reduce waste by donating non-expired packaged food items to organizations serving those experiencing homelessness and other food waste for composting has informed these businesses' efficiency models as well.
Through cross sector relationships, Pashon has developed a closed loop system that benefits the environment, the economy, and the community.
The Oil and Gas Executive
Jeremy Bentham, Vice President Global Business Environment for Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), believes that a forward-looking view of patterns of energy and resource use can inform urban city design in a way that results in high quality of life, competitive economy, and a sustainable environment.
For over 40 years Shell has been building, applying, and documenting scenarios, a practice of looking at future possibilities and projecting the outcomes over time to help inform and test present business decisions. Jeremy heads Royal Dutch Shell’s “Scenarios” division, which recently published the New Lens Scenario (NLS), introducing analytical tools around future global energy use. While NLS provides a broad global focus over the next 50 years, New Lenses on Future Cities, a supplement of NLS, provides a deep dive into that same concept from a more localized perspective.
Much like our own Detroit Future City
Framework Plan, active involvement across all sectors is what makes for the best translation of these future lenses into current decision-making. Residents, business owners, policy-makers, and civil society sectors must all be a part of “the dance” of learning what steps to take next. According to Jeremy, these lenses are not predicting the future. They are “creating memories of the future by helping to develop a wider vision of the way the future might be” resulting in better decisions today. Compact, walkable communities, biomass energy, reduced environmental threats, and cities designed to sustain the increased urbanization on the horizon are a part of that future.
Dawn Zimmer, the Mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, believes that existing government regulations and building standards must change to meet the current realities of urban communities. Hoboken has one of the highest population densities in the country, making it a good harbinger of future increases in urban populations and its effect on resources. She lead the city through Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. These disasters exposed vulnerabilities in the infrastructure and city systems. She used that information to look at the city’s readiness for the impacts of climate change and for broader contingency and recovery plans.
Mayor Zimmer advised us to review the Climate Assessment Report for Detroit
as a resource and a future lens to inform current design plans. She believes that creating cross sector teams that work in collaboration around those plans create the best models for preparedness. This means inviting sectors to the table that need to change outdated regulations to relevant informed ones with a view toward the future.
So what do a social entrepreneur, an oil and gas executive, and a politician have in common? The knowledge and understanding that there is no future without robust collaborative relationships that result in action; an intense focus on how current actions impact the people, the planet, and our future; and the belief that, with an eye on the future, we can make better decisions together now.
Delphia Simmons is the founder of Thrive Detroit, a social venture offering vulnerably-housed citizens opportunities to launch micro-entrepreneurial projects.