Published: 6th Apr 2017

I’ve long held that peer-to-peer learning can be more powerful than formal training and with deepening devolution, the Good City Economy UK road trip is a great idea. The next logical step is international ‘study’, given that cities collaborate with greater speed and flexibility than nation to nation. But with squeezed budgets how can we make this happen?

For the last three years I have been fortunate to be part of Build – Bilbao Urban Innovation and Leadership Dialogues – that has brought people together from American and European cities to learn from each other. The event is organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMFUS) with its direct link back to building bridges between nations after WWII.

Each year we are asked to suggest areas that we would like to investigate or debate; in 2015, in light of the new Community Economic Development (CED) programme that I was then involved in, I asked to hear about CED in other cities. Interestingly others did too and the result was one of the most eclectic Build workshops I’d participated in – it was clearly an emerging area of city focus.

The last event was in October 2016, just before the US elections; back then it had simply not occurred to me that the GMFUS inter-city bridge-building would be needed now more than ever. As we tentatively watch and wait for the impact of Brexit and vote with our feet in visiting the US (aka the Trump Slump), will we be hindered or more encouraged to reach out to cities beyond our small island?

Each Build experience has been personally and professionally enriching. I have learned from peers about our differences in approach and language and how we can help make a city magnetic.

In the US, major philanthropic foundations contribute to Build, too, helping people to come together where funding or professional possibility is limited. With greater opportunities for cities within the UK, but greater uncertainty beyond it, wouldn’t it be great if philanthropic counterparts at home helped maintain those bridges and build good city economies?