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  • Kingdom will shift how we view urban development, according to Leading Cities CEO Michael Lake

Since the announcement of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has been in hyperdrive with ambitious ‘giga’ projects including Qiddiyah to NEOM that are set to change the way cities work.

According to Michael Lake, the CEO of the non-profit think-tank Leading Cities, they are not only set to change the face of the Kingdom, they are “really exciting developments, frankly, for the world.”

In an interview with Arab News, Lake lauded Middle Eastern leaders for pursuing“revolutionary thinking” when it comes to planning, building and how humanity lives.

“The only limitation is the imagination… for most of us, we set our own limitations,” he said, adding that many people stand in front of a mirror and cannot go beyond what they see.

“What is so impressive about the visionary leadership that exists in places like Saudi Arabia, is that (the) mirror becomes glass.”

The Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, has caught the attention of Leading Cities for its action-oriented approach to development.

“The new project and Vision 2030 plan is pushing boundaries and not accepting the status quo, which is inspiring to Leading Cities,” Lake said.

“The organization is excited to bring its solutions, expertise, frameworks, and model policies to help guide communities in the Middle East.”

Lake said that Leading Cities works with government leaders who were willing to take risks and be innovative. He said that governments can be thought of as a sort of a “pyramid,” with “a small group at the top being the bleeding edge and willing to take risks.”

“The kind of leadership that we see here and in the Middle East (Gulf), it is more at the top of the pyramid,” he said.

“One thing I admire so much about the Middle East is that, unlike we see in the Western world, where there is a lot more talk and a whole lot less action, is that you are seeing action where the talk is, and promises are being made, and are also being delivered.”

Lake said Saudi Arabia is shifting its approach to how cities are developed, creating a new dimension of “human habitation.”

He said that despite skepticism, the Line, the linear smart city under construction in Saudi Arabia as part of NEOM, demonstrates forward-thinking and a real opportunity to just reimagine “how we live as a society.”

Even with visionary leaders some challenges emerge, Lake added. Leading Cities, he said, focused on providing solutions to those challenges.

“One is building the awareness of solutions that are emerging, and the other is vetting those solutions so that leaders have more confidence, both in terms of understanding of what is available, but also in the potential of those solutions.”

“We are not innovating for innovation’s sake. We are doing things with purpose, and we are doing them because we have kept people at the center of that equation.”

The chief executive also discussed Riyadh’s bid for the 2030 World Expo, saying that although it would represent “another boost in realizing the Vision 2030 and making that vision more of a global story,” the city can achieve it without the Expo.

“[The Expo] is nice to have because it puts Riyadh on the global stage and with everything else that is happening in Riyadh, it is a great platform.”

“But in terms of actually building Riyadh and in realizing this vision, I do not think Expo 2030 is a linchpin on which the whole plan would not survive without.”

Leading Cities was established in 2008 at Northeastern University, Boston, in the US. It now encompasses experts in 10 cities addressing global challenges such as climate change, social justice, automation and cybersecurity, and describes itself as one of the world’s top three “GovTech accelerators”.

“The GovTech accelerator run by Leading Cities is a truly global program, with 554 startups from 70 countries participating last year,” Lake, who has spent most of his career working with governments on urban planning, told Arab News.

“The six-month vetting process provides a curriculum for entrepreneurs and helps solution providers understand how to do business with governments.”

“Administrations appreciate working with entrepreneurs who have come out of the program because they understand the limitations and opportunities.”


Autor(en)/Author(s): Gabriele Malvisi

Quelle/Source: Arab News, 27.02.2023

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