Flooded river in Vietnam

+ Smaller cities can keep improving themselves by exchanging ideas with peers around the world.

It’s good to talk, and I believe that small and medium-sized cities can gain a lot from exchanging ideas with their peers around the world. In fact, I think it’s vital for any smaller city that wants to keep improving itself – economically, environmentally and socially.

At the most basic level, it makes perfect sense to adopt great ideas that are working in similar cities – even if they haven’t been done before in your own country. If, as a city leader, you never look beyond your own shores for ideas, you’re immediately limiting yourself. So, for example, why not learn from the Brazilian city of Curitiba’s fast-tracked planning and design interventions?

That said, small and medium-sized cities need ideas that will work for them, rather than ideas that only apply to places with populations of five or ten million people. So they need to swap ideas with similarly sized cities. Then they can build on each other’s ideas and accelerate their improvement faster than they could alone.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group has done this successfully for some of the larger cities. But other initiatives, such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities and the Bloomberg Philanthropies 2013-2014 Mayors Challenge are also doing it for smaller cities.

I think their work is vital because it seems to me that small and medium-sized cities are often more directly comparable than whole countries. They face similar challenges and they’re not in competition on the world stage. So Kirklees in the UK can swap ideas with Krakow in Poland in ways that Poland and the UK cannot.

This makes sharing ideas for improvement almost as important as making that improvement in the first place. When Bristol celebrates being named European Green Capital 2015, it will share tools, methods and approaches on how to become more liveable with similar cities around the world – things like how it engaged the community and how it encourages sustainable behaviour.

Bristol has a directly elected mayor and I think there’s a lot to be said for the personal connection between cities that a mayoral system enables. It’s easier for thirty or forty mayors to talk to each other than for 30 or 40 local government departments to exchange ideas.

We’re already seeing how direct connections between mayors get things done. For example, in Europe, the Covenant of Mayors is acting on energy efficiency and renewable energy. By their commitment, Covenant signatories aim to meet and exceed the European Union 20% CO2 reduction objective by 2020.

If such initiatives are going to create real improvement, they need to involve more than meeting and talking. For example - the 100 Resilient Cities ask members to produce a common deliverable – work in which commonalities can be identified and shared.

For me this sharing is key. Some things are better shared, and I think ideas about how to improve smaller cities is one of them.