Many leaders in their fields participated in the CEE Summit in Warsaw, which Poland Today co-organised with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and PropertyEU, but there will be no complaints if special mention is made of the presence of two legends of urban development from across the pond: Carl Weisbrod, Chairman of the New York City Planning Department, and Tom Murphy, the former Mayor of Pittsburgh. Both men shared their rich experience with a rapt audience of real estate professionals and civic authorities. Their words also provided a natural context to the capital markets discussion which was a strong feature of the conference.
Carl Weisbrod revealed the ‘three legs’, as he termed them, of NYC’s economic development policy from the beginning to the present day: Diversity in economics and demographics, human talent, and the importance of infrastructure in maintaining a competitive edge. On human talent, he emphasised the innate immigrant nature of the city. “Over three million of our 8.5 million residents are foreign-born,” he said. “About 40 percent of them have arrived since 2000 or later, and half of New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home.” NYC, he made clear, wears this badge with pride.
Moreover, he said that in the experience of his city, it is always the children of immigrants – the so called ‘2nd generation’ – who are the most dynamic and motivated amongst the population. Something for Polish society to note, surely. Tom Murphy, a three-term mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994-2005, is famous for transforming the city from a seemingly hopeless case in the post-war years to being named ‘Most Livable City’ in the country by The Economist. “We did it through partnership with the private sector,” stated Murphy. “Developers weren’t our adversaries, they were our partners. We shared the risk with them and we shared the reward.” The city’s reputation for union intransigence was turned on its head and is now known for innovation and entrepreneurship. Cultural facilities like the ballet and opera were built on former industrial sites, and the old baseball stadium was blown up, with a new one built dowtown. Basically, they made the city centre a place of excitement.
“A city can’t just drift towards the future,” advised Murphy. “It has to know where it’s going. It has to have leadership and attract talent. Authenticity is crucial – it can’t just copy other cities. Warsaw needs to keep the authenticity that makes it a unique place, but there needs to be a strategic vision so when the investors and developers say ‘we want to build this’, it fits into a bigger picture.”