Post by Marines Pocaterra

In this article I want to bring to our attention, the issue of public –private collaboration to find answers to complex urban problems.
Sometimes the multilayered situations are reduced to one aspect generally inside the interest’s area of the proponents, sometimes its orientation or view is settled by complex discussions between diverse stake holders. There are 2 basic questions dominating the theme of reforming our cities. How to speed from discussions to solutions and how to include all stakeholders, from great corporations to grass root communities in this process?.
In a sponsored article by City Lab, Master Card launches an ambitious urban quest called City Possible.
mc-1“Mastercard has a vision for transforming how cities and the private sector work together.”

“Today’s urban leaders face a host of challenges: diminishing environmental resources, increasing income inequality, shrinking budgets, and dramatic shifts in how people participate in the workforce. How can cities adequately respond to today’s challenges—and perhaps more importantly, tomorrow’s challenges?”

Recapping Master Card’s challenges or urban principles, mentioned in article:

  1. Solutions to urban problems need to evolve in tandem with cities.”
  2. Putting people first is paramount
  3. Building a healthy urban ecosystem for people, cities and businesses.
  4. A future that reflects the values of the City Possible model would see improvements across a number of strata transportation, infrastructure, income inequality, among many others.
  5. Forward-looking partners and forward-looking cities

These are fine slogans, but let’s follow the action and hope corporate entities succeed, not only in their interests or growth, but in the scope of truly making cities better, safer, friendlier.

Through the Center For Inclusive Growth nonprofit, for example, Mastercard followed a 4 step process to help modernize Mexico’s retail sector:

  1. Pilot: design a format of the desired intervention to attain specific goals in interrelated problem areas.
  2. Iterate: repeat until the process obtains optimal measured results to be measured in regional labs.
  3. Scale: adapt processes to obtain a holistic solution, usable to smaller cities.
  4. Learn- Validate: partnering with prestigious academic centers to obtain the results and failures to correct the process lines of production.

City Possible also enunciates the problems that have plagued partnerships, working on urban problematic until now.

  • Partners operating in silos, lacking operability, result in unsustainable business models for the future use. (Replicability)
  • Stake holders not in contact with each other, work on a patchwork of half-measures out of sync.
  • Key voices are excluded.
  • Cities lack a clear and cost-effective mechanism for implementing new solutions, or scaling them after they’ve been developed.
  • Lack of clarity in implementation: Many cities are not capable of initiating such studies or apply plans prepared for megacities to smaller towns.

The City Possible platform is Mastercard’s vision of a new private-public partnership model that traces a path for co-developing, piloting, and scaling solutions throughout global city systems. By transforming how cities and their partners take on urban challenges, City Possible can help create a stronger urban ecosystem.

I get this sounds great! It is like a revelation! But will it be a true commitment to urban improvement or is it a publicity campaign? Its content, is similar to a paper written by me more than 15 years ago. When I wrote it, I believed our system or process for slum areas 1999 was the cure of all urban evils. If we kept it going and applied technology, we could transform slums under formal standards. The traditional poverty belts, home to dangerous bands would be integrated to the city and its citizens empowered. The data gathered from pilot projects would be applied country wide.


Large poverty belts in Caracas, example of complex situations where stakeholders are not always invited or capable of participating in sophisticated urban schemes.


Looking forward to see if City Possible had expert’s help or participation in specific projects to build up their scheme before this drive. For large complex urban projects, involving multiple stakeholders (some powerful, like governments, some weak like squatters and low income sectors), practical cohesion of factors, costs, approvals, legal processes etc., render it a long range activity, which transcends political periods and economic downfalls. Adaptation is a key element for the survival of such projects. What has happened in some countries like my own, is the planning process left an outdated detailed project, no evaluation or feedback, no hard numbers to support its benefits, other set of values on the local government, and probable lack of interest of supporting institutions. Those are hard facts. There might be few elements of value that survive the span until conditions are given to activate.

Although CP thinks urban labs will rescale projects for less resourceful cities, strong cities can keep up the communication strategy and have a highly competent team of city officers as facilitators/link between stakeholders but in weaker locations, the corporate stakeholders will tower over the other partners. Goals might the shift their focus from people to corporate income, land value, political favors and worse.
I hope some of you read City Lab’s article and comment on your impressions. I agree those corporate giants, with huge income and technical capacity, should find a way to give back to the general public; they have the muscle to impulse sustainability and social equity.

But is it naïve to expect that commitment of all corporations that claim urban leadership or could most of them be using the theme as image promotion? Let us whish the former success.

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