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Looking Back At A 2015 UNESCO Cities Summit In Tel Aviv
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Looking Back At A 2015 UNESCO Cities Summit In Tel Aviv

Picture of Pablo Markin
Updated: 9 February 2017
Organized by Tel Aviv Global, a local initiative seeking to position Tel Aviv as a global city launched by this city’s municipality, ‘Cracking the Innovation Code’ was the sixth UNESCO Cities Summit that has on its advisory board both leading international urbanism scholars and local academics active in urban studies and architecture. The event took place in Neve Tzedek, a revitalized cultural district situated not far from Tel Aviv’s scenic seashore.

Featuring, among its advisors, global urbanism figures of the likes of Saskia Sassen from Columbia University, side by side with colleagues in Israeli academia, including Emily Silverman from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Eran Neuman from Tel Aviv University, the urban summit’s intensive two-day program spanned a wide range of city scholarship topics. The 2015 conference’s program reflected concerns about what future leading metropolitan centers will be, what disruptive developments present-day global capitals have to respond to currently, and how urban spaces can be turned into places for civic engagement and shared experiences.

The open piazza at the heart of the Suzanne Dellal Center served as a vibrant gathering space for summit participants to mingle, exchange ideas and learn about innovative projects in which almost all the participants of this conference have, without fail, been involved. In breaks between conference sessions, various international guests shared their preoccupations with what it takes to project an attractive image on the global map of media coverage, international conferences and cultural events. In its first day’s evening, this summit shone a light on Neve Tzedek via a guided tour exploring its transformation from a formerly run-down part of Tel Aviv into an embodiment of retro chic that combines constant redevelopment with historical preservation.

The second day of this urban summit was dedicated to other creative neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, such as the Rothschild Boulevard, which has recently attracted startup co-working spaces, the Florentin area known for its hipster bars and cafés and the South of Salame Street creative district to which art galleries, media companies and technology ventures are gravitating. This geography of urban renewal similarly includes the HaTachana Compound, an enclosure containing a former train station building, an art gallery, and an array of coffee houses, fashion boutiques and upscale restaurants, where the 2015 DLD Innovation Festival took place.

That Tel Aviv plays host to this urban summit is not solely an outcome of the high rankings; it is seen as one of the top global tourist destinations by Lonely Planet and as the second-most vibrant startup ecosystem after the California’s Silicon Valley by Startup Genome’s Compass. This conference also reflects Tel Aviv-Yafo’s becoming a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Media Arts this year, joining a network of 69 metropolitan centers around the world of which the development is increasingly driven by creativity. Thus, the closing evening of this conference featured a Creative City Boulevard that stretched from Tel Aviv’s HaBima Square to the Rothschild Plaza, which came alive with art installations, film screenings, technological demonstrations and public meetings with representatives of the local creative scene.

At the same time, this festival of urban creativity addressed many of the developmental challenges that global cities face and innovative solutions they may need in order to deal with population growth, migratory flows, and environmental deterioration, while seeking to promote social equitableness. This summit, thus, served as a stage towards addressing these issues that are diversely related to urban sustainability at the forthcoming United National Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016. Therefore, the speakers at this summit included not only United Nations representatives but also mayors, planners and visionaries from New York, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, Oslo, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Lund, Madrid, Barcelona, Linz, and Krakow as well as Jewish-Israeli and Arab-Israeli cities seeking to improve their international profile, such as Safed and Hura.