Asia Pacific Cities Summit: Taiwan

If cities are much more than just their buildings, conferences are much more than just networking and lectures. The Asia Pacific Cities Summit exceeded my expectations ten-fold. The point of the summit was to partner business and government (as well as people) to expand the capabilities of our cities. Although it was started by Brisbane over a decade ago and was held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan this year, the Asia Pacific Cities Summit has been heralded as the best cities-centred conference in the world. And it lived up to its impression.

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Griffith University sponsored myself and one other student, Ben Rankin (environmental science) to attend this conference with the support of the Brisbane City Council. Firstly, the people were amazing. Brisbane City Council’s staff were great at organising the Young Professionals from Brisbane and we were able to meet a whole range of public servants and politicians. The highlights were meeting with Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, a number of young councillors, and the team from the International Relations and Multicultural Affairs office.

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On Sunday the 8th of September was the Young Professionals Forum, held at the Kaohsiung Medical University. The purpose was basically to hear from the perspective of our cities youths and we attended a number of workshops and speeches. One was a panel session that included two of my favourite presenters, Municipal President (i.e. Mayor) of Seberang Perai in Malaysia, Madam Maimunah Mohd Sharif and Gil Penalosa  of 8 to 80 Cities. It was great to talk with the Municipal President, as I eventually want to do my Honours on something to do with the subject of ‘women in power’ – how they get there, how they maintain it, and how they manage. We exchanged business cards, so that is a start and I will definitely send her an email to try to keep in contact as she might have some good insights for the future. Gil Penalosa was also an incredible presenter and talked a lot about the importance of making cities easily accessible and safe for not just fit 30-something year olds, but also for eight year olds to 80 year olds – the youngest and most vulnerable and the oldest and most vulnerable.

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More than anything, the Young Professionals (YP) Forum was a chance for young people from Brisbane, Kaohsiung, and the rest of the world to simply meet, chat, and learn a bit about each other. Us Brisbane YPs became very close with a number of absolutely fantastic students from the Medical University. It made me slightly jealous that as Australians we have no need to learn a second or third language in general – we have no need to use anything but English. But these students from Kaohsiung speak two, three or more languages, and all with great proficiency. Although they were medical students, we all had something to share about our cities and what we could do to improve them.

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Comparing cities, Brisbane has done some great things, for example to do with leadership development in youth and support programs for social entrepreneurs, whereas Kaohsiung has done a lot to do with cultural revitalisation and the thoughtful renovation of crucial heritage sites. Where one city needs improving, the other city can provide a model for improvement. I liked that, because, let’s face it, our cities are very different but also have the same sort of core challenges.

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And of course, I was lucky enough to be able to present with my Taiwanese colleague, Brian Chen, the Young Professionals Accord to the 1000-strong conference on the final morning. The aim of the accord was to consolidate everything us YPs had discussed, debated and wanted to see happen in our cities. Focusing on the theme of “reshaping the urbanomics of cities: city challenges, city solutions”, we investigated:

1. How do we balance cultural and heritage offerings with the need for new technologies and commercial enterprise in cities?

2. How can cities engage and support their young professionals to develop them into leaders of the future?

3. How can cities work together to leverage capitalism and consumerism to solve global city challenges?

4. How do we engage, encourage, support and incorporate social enterprises into cities?

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Here is our presentation:

A city is more than just its buildings. It is a beating heart of civilization and the community around which our lives revolve. Here are our ideas of how to develop the character of our living cities.

Culture and Heritage

Culture and heritage are the foundation of our sense of identity. We envision a symbiotic relationship between culture and technology, where our culture inspires innovation. Our practical recommendation is for each city to adopt a city story to promote each year to structure the revitalization of our cultural heritage through tangible projects. One examples of this is that each year Kaohsiung hosts a spring arts festival that encompasses events unifying city history and local culture.

Social Enterprise

The youth of the Asia Pacific aspires to use social enterprise to integrate our social aspirations with our everyday operations. We see the councils’ role to be to empower and facilitate citizens to apply their expertise to community concerns. Our governments and business leaders should provide a platform that supports citizens to take action through sustainable social enterprises. We’d like to see more programs like Hack Brisbane, where our council has released data, held workshops for app designers and awarded entrepreneurs for the best social application of data.

Future Leaders

Leadership is the backbone of a dynamic, strong and global city. Development of leadership skills in youth through mentoring and support programs is integral to ensuring that the next generation can navigate our future city challenges. Some cities already have these fundamental programs in place and we would encourage this model for fostering leadership to be shared among cities. Among all of the universities in and around Brisbane, leadership programs are integrated into youth learning experiences. At a base level, the next young leaders are exposed to leadership development workshops like the two-year intensive Business School Leadership Programme in Griffith University or the Queensland University of Technology’s Business Leaders’ Forum, as well as many offered by the private sector and civic groups.

Capitalism and consumerism

Capitalism and consumerism do not just provide the incentive systems through which we trade but are the foundation of all our civic interactions. As such, it is imperative that we harness the power of consumerism to drive us to be the societies we aspire to be and transform our city challenges into opportunities for social, environmental and economic progress. We propose that city councils leverage the expertise of both business leaders and innovative social thinkers by facilitating dialogue events to brainstorm new initiatives. The YPP has been an incredible opportunity to cooperate on a regional level and we look forward to working with our councils to open conversation with our peers back home.

These are the visions of the young professionals of the Asia Pacific, who are ecstatic to work together to make our cities much more than just their buildings.

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Well, what can I say, this conference has been the best I have ever attended, I have met some truly inspiring and helpful people for my future and I had one of the most fun, happiest times in Taiwan this whole week. I couldn’t recommend it more and I will be strongly advocating to my university, Griffith, to support as many students as it can when it returns to Brisbane in 2015. This is it! http://www.apcsummit.org/index.php

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