Everywhere I travel lately, I’m struck by the way cities are starting to work together. City leaders are realizing that their cities are stronger together than alone, and they’re setting common goals and looking at citizens, universities, businesses, logistics systems, and even infrastructures as a shared asset. These “city clusters” are finding ways to capitalize on their strengths to elevate their regions, their nations, and the cities themselves. When they band together this way, cities can pitch ideas to their central governments with a much louder voice—one that commands attention and attracts funding. Here are a few city-clusters that have impressed me. Each provides an example of how regional collaboration among cities could be the key to a strong, sustainable future.
1. The Caribe-Colombian Diamond
Picture South America’s northern coast, where Colombia acts as a portal to the Caribbean. Now imagine nine cities—from Cartagena to Bucaramanga—forming the points of a diamond. Their connecting infrastructure marks the diamond’s edges, and the large landscapes in between make up its facets. This metaphor, created by Spain’s Fundación Metrópoli, gives us a way to visualize polycentric urban structures around the globe that are rich in combined resources—and ripe for development.
In the Caribe-Colombian Diamond, which encompasses 26 percent of the region’s population, Microsoft, Fundación Metrópoli, the Colombian Financial Institution for Development (Findeter), and the local governments are applying a new methodology—the first of its kind—to help these cities and the territory realize a vision for the future. The goal of the project is to work with the cities to develop new tourism, energy, natural resource management, international commerce, and knowledge sectors—as well as help them adopt new technologies such as the cloud—to fuel economic growth and competitiveness in the Republic of Colombia for decades to come.
2. China’s West Triangle Economic Zone
In China, the inland city of Xi’an is working with smaller surrounding cities, such as Xianyang, in ways that have made its GDP soar—from 69 billion to 366 billion yuan between 2000 and 2011—and made it one of 13 developing mega-cities in China, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. This city-scale collaboration is enhanced by regional collaboration among Chongqing, Chengdu, and Xi'an. These prominent cities came together to create a state-supported economic powerhouse called the West Triangle Economic Zone. Together, they house 118 million people; host offices for hundreds of international companies, including more than 200 Fortune 500 companies; and contribute 40 percent of the region’s GDP.
3. The European Diagonal
Across southern Europe, four diamonds-in-the-rough are developing:
1. Portuguese Diamond: Lisbon and Porto
2. Mediterranean Diamond: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Zaragoza
3. Midi Diamond: Marseille, Nice, Cote d’Azur, and Lyon
4. Diamond of Italy-North: Milan, Turin, Genoa, and Venice
They’re part of a European Diagonal, as described by Fundación Metrópoli—a regional territory stretching across Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
The diagonal and its emerging diamonds are primed to become more physically and digitally interconnected. By extending air, sea, and land connections (through high-speed rail, for example), increasing student and workforce mobility, sharing knowledge, facilitating cultural exchange, and even creating joint products and services, the diagonal can position itself for the future. In this collaborative future, its economies and business sectors are set up for global competitiveness, so the region can thrive even as resources and budgets are stretched thin.
What about your city? Could you be part of a “diamond” that shares resources? Maybe your city has a university, a neighboring city has a manufacturing plant, and another has a convention center. Start talking. Share your visions for the future. Set goals. By working together as a single city, your cluster will have a stronger voice that gets you noticed by your regional and national governments. Who knows, you might get an influx of investment that helps you polish that diamond into the livable, sustainable urban metropolis that you—and your citizens—desire.
Images courtesy of Fundación Metrópoli.