Connection grows prosperity

May 13, 2015

On June 2, I am part of a panel on sustainable and smart cities at a corporate social responsibility (CSR) conference.

So why a session on sustainable and smart cities at a conference focussed on improving business performance through CSR, you might ask?

I believe businesses will become increasingly invested in the success of cities given the new role of cities in the 21st century. Global transportation and the internet are removing geographic barriers and this means people are freer than ever to choose where they live.  Cities are competing globally to attract and retain talent and investment in a highly mobile world.  When cities compete successfully, they do so by investing in infrastructure, improving quality of life and, surprising as it might sound, collaborating with other cities within and beyond national boundaries.  Cities that don’t understand their place in the world are a strategic risk for the businesses that made investments in them.

Businesses – at least the smart ones – understand the connection between an empowered workforce and the bottom line – happy employees mean happy customers and happy customers mean happy investors.

The same is true for communities. Communities are healthier and more prosperous when people are strongly attached to where they live.  The three top drivers of connection to place are openness (how welcoming a community is to all people), social offering (how the community is designed to provide positive social interaction) and aesthetics (the natural and created beauty of the place).  Like an excellent workplace, great cities are good for business.

The shared learning goes even deeper.  When researchers asked people over 30 what would attract them to a community, it was a job. When the same was asked of people under 30, it was the place.  This is similar to the demographic attitudinal shift that is occurring in the workplace – this demographic will choose the quality of a workplace over salary.  When we develop strategies to retain or recruit young talent in a community we should not only be focusing on creating jobs but also on providing a great sense of place.

Leading cities and businesses are always innovating, looking to “up” their performance, and when they do, we all benefit. They aren’t content perpetuating the status quo.  They are restless. They push their organizations to move beyond simple compliance with current practice and standards.  They create value and long-term sustainability by breaking down traditional industrial-age approaches to problem solving and embrace principles of openness and interdependence.