Cities Have Their Moment -- and the 2012 TED Prize

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(Photo (cc) by Flickr user Jo@net)

Bill Clinton, Bono, Jamie Oliver and ... cities. Past winners of the TED Prize have been global celebrities, underexposed luminaries, and even an anonymous artist, but they've all been actual people. This year, TED is giving the prize -- $100,000, a wish and brand cache -- to an idea. And a nebulous idea at that: The City 2.0.

What is that exactly? As TED defines it:

"The City 2.0 is the city of the future ... a future in which more than 10 billion people on planet Earth must somehow live sustainably, together. The City 2.0 is not a sterile utopian dream, but a real-world upgrade tapping into humanity's collective wisdom. The City 2.0 promotes innovation, education, culture and economic opportunity. The City 2.0 reduces the carbon footprint of its occupants and eases the environmental pressure on the world's rural areas. The City 2.0 is a place of beauty, wonder, excitement, inclusion, diversity, life. The City 2.0 is the city that works."

So, they don't know.

The prize  is a sign that cities are sexy to the hip intellectual set TED attracts, and that planning cities is one of the attractive new challenges the next generation of world changing academics, designers, and thinkers will want to focus on.

The TED prize brings with it a flutter of international media attention. Normally the winning individual picks the wish, and invests the money into the cause. Last year, the prize landed anonymous street artist JR with prominent placement in the NY Times for instance. And his wish -- to massively crowdsource a global art project of photos of everyday people to paste on walls around the world -- came into reality.

As Greg Lindsay points out at Fast Company, there are plenty of suitable candidates who have advanced the idea of Cities 2.0, but TED didn't pick any of them. By shirking that choice, TED gets to convene an currently unnamed panel of experts to collectively craft a wish on behalf of the city of the future, that, presumably, the TED community will help execute.

Wish suggestions are already streaming in to TED, ranging from a manifesto for local leaders to adhere to, a plan for a city that plans it self driven by data, and, of course, ideas for smart transportation and mobility in the city of the future.

The panel of experts deciding on the wish, and the wish itself, will be announced at the TED conference in February.