The summit featured mayors, public and private sector leaders, journalists, academics, students and entrepreneurs discussing the stories, innovations and people who will transform our cities in the coming decades.
In celebration and recognition of Earth Day 2016, National League of Cities President Melodee Colbert-Kean joined municipal officials, private sector leaders and students from around the country at the Planet Forward Summit hosted at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The event celebrated the power of storytelling to transform cities, making them more sustainable and livable for the next generation. President Colbert-Kean’s opening keynote for the conference focused on the hundreds of stories that she hears as an NLC leader from city officials throughout the country. “In today’s world — where climate change and extreme weather are happening right now — city services need to be provided in ways that are more sustainable for the future of our planet,” said President Colbert-Kean.
She also related her own story about the determination and dedication shown by the citizens of Joplin after the F-5 tornado that destroyed nearly one-third of the town. As the city prepares to commemorate the 5-year anniversary of the disaster, she emphasized the eagerness from many in the community to recover and rebuild in a more responsible and sustainable manner. “No one is blaming climate change for causing this tornado,” she explained, “but we know these tragedies are becoming more common.”
Other city leaders who spoke at the event included West Palm Beach, Florida, Mayor Jeri Muoio and Huntsville, Alabama, mayor Tommy Battle. They joined EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and speakers from Boeing, Uber, Land O’ Lakes, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others to discuss how issues such as water, transportation, economic inequality, and public health play an important role in building more sustainable communities.
Through StoryFest, the summit also provided a forum for students from dozens of universities throughout the world to share their stories, perspectives, and aspirations related to cities. The competition solicited nearly 100 student-made stories in audio, video, text, or a combination of media in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Winners from George Washington University and the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia will be provided with a $500 prize and an all-expenses paid trip to New York to display their submissions and stories to development experts from around the world.
Listening to the students and several of the professors who joined, it is clear that the generation entering the workforce and deciding where to live has high expectations for both their employers and their cities. They are actively seeking transportation options beyond cars, connections to their food supply, and ways to reduce waste – and they are willing to work to find it.