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Vancouver mayor heads to Europe to share secrets of success

Supporters wave flags as they wait for Nicolas Sarkozy, to deliver his speech at Trocadero square during a campaign rally in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris May 1, 2012.


Vancouver and its mayor will be the stars at an international convention in Paris next week that touts the city as the entrepreneurial, high-tech model for the new urbanism of the 21st century.

With his way paid to Paris by a recently created organization that gets money from both non-profit groups and corporations hoping to sell new technologies to those cities, Mayor Gregor Robertson will be delivering the keynote address at the New Cities Foundation with a message about his "entrepreneurial approach to running a city."

"I'll be telling the Vancouver story about partnership with the private sector to accelerate adoption of new technologies," Mr. Robertson said on the eve of his departure for the first-ever conference of the foundation.

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He is also the only politician on the foundation's board, which includes everyone from noted architect Daniel Libeskind to executives of such major corporations as GE, Ericsson and Cisco.

Mr. Robertson said Vancouver is pushing to become the world's greenest city and to transform itself into a hub for green jobs by working with private companies in two ways.

One is by partnering with global companies that have new technologies to offer. For example, Vancouver has a partnership with Cisco and local company Pulse Energy to try out new energy-management software in city buildings.

The second is by making new rules that force companies to adapt. "There's also a role for cities in creating regulations that drive the pace of change," the mayor said. So Vancouver's new requirements for meeting green-building standards are helping to boost local firms that specialize in those design and construction techniques.

Besides selling Vancouver to the Paris crowd as a new leader in green city-building techniques and high-technology businesses, he'll also be travelling to Stuttgart for the international FMX conference on digital animation to sell his city's booming animation industry.

"Vancouver hasn't traditionally been on the big-business radar as a place to invest," he said. "[The trip]is to get on the radar to let them know we're emerging as a significant economic force. In digital, we are a global player. And we are a significant global player in clean tech."

Vancouver's economic development commission estimates the city has about 15,000 "green jobs" and about 22,000 in the digital media and wireless sectors, including about 6,000 in game development alone. There are an estimated 400,000 jobs in the city overall.

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The New Cities Foundation is one of many organizations that have sprung up in recent years to focus on this century's explosive urbanization. Several of them are sponsored by or have attracted the interest of corporations developing technologies they hope to sell, as politicians and planners struggle to cope with huge influxes of people, increasingly complex metropolitan regions, or the need to create entirely new cities.

The New Cities Foundation, which also has support from the Ford Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's "city lab" program, has started two projects already. One is testing the use of specialized backpacks developed by GE that health workers can use to go into poor areas and do in-home tests and treatments with a computerized connection to a nearby health clinic. Another is testing the use of social media to solve commuting problems in San Jose, Calif.

Mr. Robertson came to the attention of the New Cities Foundation founder John Rossant, who also helps organize the Davos economic forums through his firm Publicis, when Vancouver got in touch with him to organize its IBM-sponsored Cities Summit last year.

"I had also met Gregor a couple of years ago in China at the World Economic Forum and he was always on our radar," Mr. Rossantsaid. "Another thing that intrigued me is that he's really not a professional politician. He's an entrepreneur through and through."

The city's policy says politicians can accept money from outside groups for travel costs if the trip is authorized.

But one former city hall chief of staff, Daniel Fontaine, says he believes that, if mayors are representing their city at a worthwhile event, the city should pay so as to avoid any suggestion of conflict or taking favours.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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