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CityLab Summit in Washington, D.C. Concludes with Conversations on Citizen Activism, Cities Confronting Climate Change and Improving Inequities in Maternal Health.

Speakers included D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, Musician Dave Grohl and Stacey Stewart, President and CEO, March of Dimes

Today marked the conclusion of CityLab DC, a two-day summit organized by The Aspen Institute, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Over the course of the event, 125 speakers engaged in conversations across dozens of topics focusing on the greater theme of urban innovation. Sessions addressed the use of data to help communities address homelessness; gun violence in cities; affordable housing; decriminalizing poverty; the impact of technology on health and employment; scooters and the micro-mobility revolution; local problem solving; climate change; 5G and the digital divide; surveillance in cities; self-driving cars; governance within a digital city; reinvestment into cities; workers that help drive a city’s economy; city regulation around the gig economy; and the cultural impact of music.

CityLab DC gathered over 500 city leaders, practitioners, planners, architects, artists, economists, business leaders, tech innovators, urban scholars, and other civic leaders—representing 169 cities across 30 countries. Forty-four mayors attended CityLab DC from the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Latin America.

The second day convened an important discussion with Mayor Muriel Bowser and Stacey Stewart, President and CEO, March of Dimes, in a session titled, “Healing the Divide in Maternal Health.” In 2019, American women are more than twice as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than they were in 1987. More American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than women in any other developed country. And only in the U.S. is the rate of maternal mortality on the rise. Mayor Bowser has launched an Infant and Maternal Health Initiative called Maternal Mondays in Washington, D.C. to help raise awareness and provide resources to new mothers and babies in the District.

“It’s not enough to say do we have insurance. But do people feel heard and respected when they go to see their doctors?,” Bowser said. “Part of the data suggests to us that the closer we can get to the grassroots and supporting women, the more likely they are to trust those providers. We know that we can provide more supportive environments for them during their pregnancy,” she added. “All of that information is going to help us build a government that supports women and families.”

Stewart spoke of the need for community collaboration for mother and infant care, saying, “There’s no one sector, not one entity alone that can solve this. What we know about premature birth and infant mortality, is that it has to do with not only what happens in the doctor’s office, but it has to do very much with how women live….access to transportation, access to healthcare, housing, and all of the kinds of factors that affect a woman’s life.”

In a closing session, David Grohl called for cities to embrace all-ages music venues to create more opportunities for younger residents to develop their passion for music, and help foster an increased sense of community.

Conversations and insights from featured speakers on Day 2 included:

  • In a session by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, Professor of Peace Studies from the University of California San Diego called, “The Street: Ground Zero for Democracy,” he examined the future of free speech in cities and the role public space plays in facilitating it. He also spoke about the role of city leaders—from mayors to law enforcement—finding ways to ensure that all residents feel respected and safe to share their views. “Protests on a regular basis are changing the way we think about our lives, the way we think about our cities, and sometimes, the way we think about ourselves,” Choi-Fitzpatrick said.
  • With protests occurring around the world to effect change in government, Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto of San Juan, Puerto Rico was interviewed by Mary Louise Kelly, Host of All Things Considered, NPR, on the impact of recent protests in Puerto Rico that culminated in the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosello. The Mayor took an opportunity to discuss the impact of hurricanes on Puerto Rico and the country’s rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Maria. In an emotional reflection on the citizen response from the U.S. to Hurricane Maria, Cruz Soto thanked American volunteers for their support, “While the federal government turned its back on us, we are very cognisant that the American people opened their hearts to us. You fed us. You gave us water. You took care of our wounds. And when the federal administration could not find its way, you found your way. ”
  • Taking a page from the eclectic food scene in Washington, Author and Chef Kwame Onwuachi of Kith/Kin discussed his culinary and personal journey spanning Nigeria and New York with Senior Editor of The Atlantic, Ron Brownstein. Onwuachi said “on a plate of food, you can cross nations. You can cross cultures. It’s the only true art form that you actually ingest.”
  • As the U.S. prepares for the 2020 Census, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic interviewed Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Terri Ann Lowenthal of Funders Census Initiative to discuss how we can make sure every resident is counted in this critical 10-year national survey. “Every census has its challenges. Every census has its controversies,” said Lowenthal. “I am particularly worried that the 2020 Census is facing a set of unprecedented challenges that could thwart the success of the census.” Mayor Elorza spoke of the need to ensure an accurate census in the coming year. “The census touches everything that we care about,” said Elorza. “We need accurate data to move the needle to improve the lives of all of our residents. The census is the foundation of all of that.”
  • The Atlantic’s Deputy Editor Gillian White moderated a discussion between Ai-jen Poo, Co-founder and Executive Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Jose Antonio Vargas, Author of “Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” unpacked the role that day laborers, restaurant workers, and domestic workers – both legal and undocumented – play in their cities and how the shadow economy shapes city life for all. In explaining the shadow economy in cities, Poo said “If you’re looking for signs of the future, you look to the margins. Not just for the problems that are potentially the threats to potentially to come in the future for everyone, but also the solutions. A lot of the most innovative ideas have been happening in the shadows. That can actually benefit millions of workers in the future, and cities are taking the lead.” Vargas spoke of the public sentiment toward immigrants in this country, adding, “the anti-immigrant narrative has spread like a virus so wide that it has elected a president.”
  • Tommi Laitio, Executive Director of Culture and Leisure for the City of Helsinki, Finland, shared a presentation about the reinvention, both inside and out, of public libraries in Finland, as well as the public services they provide. “Schools and libraries have played a crucial role in making the country and Helsinki the city what it is at the moment,” said Laitio. “If we look at the contemporary challenges in our cities, we have to think about the role of libraries in a larger way.”
  • The day closed out with an enlightening and entertaining session with esteemed Musician and Filmmaker, Dave Grohl, of Nirvana and Foo Fighters. Grohl spoke with The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg about the local and cultural impact of music and the cities like Washington, D.C. and Seattle, WA that have influenced him: “The music then becomes the soundtrack of that city.” He then added, “A community that has a rich and exciting vibrant music scene – I think that it brings a lot of happiness to the place where it is.”

Yesterday CityLab’s mainstage programming featured a joint welcome by Bloomberg Philanthropies CEO Patricia E. Harris and Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser; an interview with founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Former Mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg; conversations with Jimmie Fails, Mayors Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Michelle de la Isla, Greg Fischer, Sam Liccardo, former Deputy Mayor Maria Vassilakou, Roger Enriquez of University of Texas at San Antonio, Fernando Godinez of Mexican American Unity Council; and a stunning performance by the Chuck Brown Band, featuring Doug Crowley, “Mighty” Moe Hagans, William “Ju Ju” House and Frank “Scooby” Sirius.

Social: Follow along on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with #CityLabDC, @AtlanticLIVE and @AspenInstitute, @BloombergDotOrg


Media Relations Contacts:

Anna Bross and Hugo Rojo
The Atlantic

Courtney Greenwald
Bloomberg Philanthropies

Jon Purves
The Aspen Institute