Erik Charlton/Flickr

Conference’s award and prize money aimed at improving global cities

The organization behind the high-profile uber-conference TED has announced an unusual winner for the 2012 iteration of its TED Prize. The award is formally presented at the annual TED conference in February, when the winner announces his or her “wish” – a project that builds off the $100,000 prize money and the enthusiasm of the TED community to participate in somehow making the world a better place. This year’s winner, though, is a little different. It’s not a person, but rather an idea – and a big one: The City 2.0.

“Cities are the great hope for our future,” says Chris Anderson, curator of TED. He says the organization was thinking about people and projects worth supporting and awarding for the 2012 prize like usual, but got a little distracted. “This theme of the importance of cities for the future of planet earth kept coming up.”

The decision to award the generalized city, Anderson says, is meant to acknowledge this increasing importance and to get a community of thinkers involved in coming up with new ideas to embrace and improve our urban world.

The official announcement of the prize calls the City 2.0 “a future in which more than ten billion people on planet Earth must somehow live sustainably. The City 2.0 is not a sterile utopian dream, but a real-world upgrade tapping into humanity’s collective wisdom.”

In recent years, TED has been gathering international attention for its big-thinking conferences on “ideas worth spreading,” its free collection of videos of these presentations and now its officially sanctioned independently organized “TEDx” events. The TED Prize is a $100,000 award given, typically, to an individual in order to “ignite a massive collaboration project.” The exact nature of the project is held under wraps until the TED conference when the winner shares his or her “wish.” Previous winners have initiated global art projects and rallied for the creation of ocean preserve areas. This year, TED is tapping into a panel of city experts – “We’re talking to the smartest people,” Anderson says – to collaborate and come up with this wish for cities.

In a world of about 4 billion urbanites, coming up with one idea to benefit the cities of the world is a tall order. But Anderson argues that whatever the panel comes up with is sure to be wide-reaching.

“The point is not to imply that there is one city on which our future is to depend,” Anderson says. “The last thing we’re saying is ‘let’s come and design a blueprint for a utopian city.’ Rather let’s apply all the learning we can from great architecture, the economy, urban planning, social science, et cetera into making our cities better.”

All that for $100,000? Well, it’s not just the prize money that’s involved. Anderson says that this money is typically just the start, and that interested and engaged members of the TED community often join the efforts behind prize winners’ wishes by pledging their own money, services and support. He estimates that the 2012 prize will bring in the most participation.

“We’re hoping that many people will want to be involved because it’s a project for humanity,” Anderson says.

The exact wish – and the panel of experts crafting it – will be revealed at the 2012 TED conference in Long Beach on February 29.

Photo credit: Erik Charlton/Flickr

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