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WEBCAST: Tim Campbell on How Cities Learn

David Thorpe, the community manager of Sustainable Cities Collective - the foremost forum for urban leaders everywhere - interviews Tim Campbell about how cities learn.

Tim Campbell is chairman of the Urban Age Institute, spent many years working for the World Bank, and is a senior academic.

The concept of sustainability implies constant learning, keeping up-to-date, reinvention. But how can cities learn? How can a city innovate constantly to keep on top of challenges? The answers to these questions can be found in Tim Campbell's book Beyond Smart Cities.

His book has been called "strikingly original" and "perfectly timed".  It is based on his experience working for the World Bank for over 35 years in urban development in hundreds of cities all over the world. This gave him an unrivalled perspective on what makes successful cities tick.

In this interview he talks about how he went about conducting the research behind his book. His findings imply that cities learn in a rational scientific way - but people run cities and they are emotional and irrational.  He explains how these two seemingly contradictory tendencies can be squared.

He also addresses the question of why it sometimes takes so long for best practice to be copied elsewhere.  His book mentions explicitly Curitiba's transport system as an example. I remember when I was in Brazil asking the same question. I was told that the answer was that every city leader wants to put their own stamp on a city's development and not just be seen to be copying what somebody else has done.

Tim claims to have discovered a way around this problem.

His conclusions apply largely to the richer cities. Does this mean that the poorer cities will get further and further behind because they lack the capacity to learn?

Besides answering this question he also talks about how learning - a form of social capital - is earnt, stored and spent, and whether, for example, Islamic cities can learn in the same way as Western cities or Chinese cities.

He discusses which are his favourite cities to exemplify Smartness, and to what extent they depend for their success on exceptional individuals rather than the way they work.

In the interview he also tackles the question of how cities can successfully manage the incredible amount of data both local and historical and global and contemporaneous they need to stay ahead of the game. What systems should they put in place?

His findings obviously have implications for the education and training of tomorrow's leaders. This is supported by the Urban Age Institute and the regular Meeting of the Minds conferences, which are opportunities for networking of city leaders.

Beyond Smart Cities is available from Routledge for £36.99. The Urban Age Institute can be found at