Cities are complex ecosystems with people coexisting while constructing a unique cultural footprint. In the United States, city officials are elected by the citizens whom they serve and are entrusted with maintaining the good while improving the bad.
We’ve seen Parks and Recreation, so we can say with a sort of fictional confidence that the jobs of folks operating a city government are tremendously difficult. But so are the jobs of artists, culinary professionals and business owners who are tasked with cultivating a city’s culture, making it more vibrant and relevant to the people who live there.
“[City] issues are paramount to the world,” says Margaret Low, president of AtlanticLIVE, the events arm of The Atlantic. “We all came together and decided we could build things better together than apart and became a partnership.”
CityLab was formed by members of The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2016. The annual conference is hosted for people who run cities across the globe and features panels, discussions and activities all geared toward finding solutions for universal challenges. This year’s conference is being held in the District on October 27-29.
“This year’s theme is about power: who has it and how it’s used,” Low continues. “This made Washington especially interesting. DC is a city, like many others, with a deep local cultural history. Though the federal government often moves slow, the city government finds solutions and improvises. There’s a lot to learn about how the city has evolved and grown.”
As a collective, cities often face similar challenges to one another, which is why CityLab helps them connect.
“Housing [and] transportation [are] huge issues in any city,” Low says. “Gentrification, climate change, jobs, culture, music, etc. For any conference, you examine what issues and hot topics will captivate people attending.”
While DC provides the backdrop for this year’s conference, there will also be some District flair onstage as a number of notable locals are set to speak including Mayor Muriel Bowser, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Chuck Brown Band leader Frank Sirius and On Tap’s October cover star, chef Kwame Onwuachi.
Low adds, “When you think about DC, you think about the shining stars in the city who have particularly great stories. When you’re putting people on a stage, you want people who are captivating storytellers.”
However, invited leaders aren’t only coming to CityLab to sit and listen, as the conference is built on the ideology of communication. Some of the issues addressed require solutions so big, collaboration is essential.
“There’s so much noise and so much coming at you, and there’s something so powerful about bringing people together to listen, talk and grapple with big questions in a thought-provoking way,” Low elaborates. “I think people really value it. I see it every day. It’s a chance to learn about how people tackle unifying issues.”
Though CityLab is an invite-only conference not open to the public, it still serves the public and provides elected officials on a global scale a chance to make the world a better place, one city at a time.
For more information about CityLab 2019, visit http://citylab2019.theatlantic.com.