What is a city?
And what is the role of knowledge development and knowledge sharing – what knowledge workers refer to as “KD/KS” – in the life of a city?
A challenge from Mr. Joan Clos, the newly installed Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (popularly known as UN-HABITAT), gives us something to think about in this connection. More specifically, to think about how the work we do affects society at a macro level. Mr. Clos’s challenge also – not to put too fine a point on it – provides an intriguing opportunity for people working with knowledge strategy, knowledge management, and knowledge services to focus on their societal role as they undertake activities in the workplace.
UN-HABITAT is mandated by the U.N. General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities, with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. As towns and cities grow at unprecedented rates, sustainable urbanization has turned out to be one of the most pressing challenges facing the global community in the 21st century. In 1950, UN-HABITAT tells us, one-third of the world’s people lived in cities. Just 50 years later, this proportion has risen to one-half and will continue to grow to two-thirds, or 6 billion people, by 2050.
So what do we do about it? That’s what UN-HABITAT does, figure out how to make a difference for the better, and especially for the urban poor.
On October 18, in his first meeting with UN-HABITAT staff, Clos invited staff members to think about what working with cities is all about and as they do so, to share with him their definitions of cities.
“One of my favorites,” Clos said, “is the one that says that a city is a place where you will find what you are not looking for.”
So I can’t resist, and not surprisingly my definition of the city connects with the role of citizens in knowledge development and knowledge sharing. Here’s my take:
“A city is a community of communities, a physical collection of spaces, functions, and organizations of people, all come together to develop and share with one another knowledge that – when generated – becomes the foundation of the city as a knowledge culture, a balanced environment that ensures the realization of the city’s vision and the achievement of its societal mission.”
How would other knowledge workers define a city? Would you frame your definition around knowledge and what people know (and share with one another and their larger environment)? How important is KD/KS in the life of the city?
Doug Ragan says
hi Guy. Great post. I watched Joan Clos give this speech, and it was inspiring as it was different from what I have heard over the past 8 years. Clos is looking for more than numbers and stats about cities, he is looking for what inspires people about cities.
My definition of a city is a bit simplistic:
A city is defined by the people who live there and those who aspire to.