World Economic Forum: New urban transformation programme

Detroit skyline across Lake Michigan

WEF creates Detroit-based global centre to increase collaboration on climate change and social outcomes.

With an estimated 60% of the global population set to be living in cities by 2030, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has announced a new global Centre for Urban Transformation headquartered in Detroit.

Urban sustainability is going to be key to how the world responds to climate change, as well as being vital to the wellbeing of billions of people. So the centre, which intends to build a global movement akin to the EBRD Green Cities initiative in and around Europe, will seek to increase public-private collaboration to advance more inclusive and sustainable models quickly.

“Around the globe, cities are facing unprecedented challenges from COVID-19 to climate change, exposing deep systemic inequities,” said Jeff Merritt, head of urban transformation at the WEF. “As we chart a course towards a more sustainable and equitable future, government cannot carry this burden alone; increased public-private cooperation is essential. Detroit is uniquely positioned to serve as the epicenter for this work – a hub for urban transformation and innovation that the world can look to for guidance and inspiration.”

The WEF will leverage its global network of leading companies, governments, civil society organisations and academic institutions to support cities as they seek to rebuild their economies and forge more resilient communities. This includes mobilising the global business community to commit expertise and resources in support of local communities, advancing models for inclusive urban development, and exploring new approaches to expand urban services and economic opportunity in low-income and traditionally marginalised communities.

The centre will launch in October with a series of events and announcements, showcasing innovative models of urban transformation from around the globe. Bedrock, Detroit’s largest real estate company, will host the Centre’s work in Detroit, providing a testbed to rethink and redefine the benefits and possibilities of urban living.

While Detroit will be the global headquarters for the new programme, it will also benefit from the backing of the WEF’s operations in other major cities, which include Beijing, Geneva, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo.

The need for rapid transition to a more sustainable model for global cities, and indeed all economic and social activity, has been brought into sharp focus by the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, something the World Economic Forum is keen to address. In response to the report, which warned urgent action is needed to avoid the planet warming by more than 1.5c, the World Economic Forum’s president, Børge Brende, has stressed that the world needs to tackle carbon in the atmosphere now.

“Extreme heat is not a future problem. It is already here. 2010 to 2019 was the hottest decade ever recorded, and temperatures will continue to rise unless dramatic action is taken. Industry is responsible for nearly a third of global emissions.”

Børge Brende will also be discussing how leadership and governance can ensure future infrastructure is developed with due consideration to their economic, social and environmental impact at this year’s Global Infrastructure Conference in September.