• 03.01.12

The 2012 TED Prize Will Fund Ways To Remake Our Cities

Instead of giving its annual award to one person, TED announced that it will be giving small grants to 10 user-submitted projects on the city of the future.

The 2012 TED Prize Will Fund Ways To Remake Our Cities

The City 2.0 is under construction. As the winner of the 2012 TED Prize–the first to be awarded to an idea rather than a person–TED unveiled its $100,000 “wish” Wednesday evening at its flagship conference in Long Beach, California. “Imagine a platform that brings you together, locally and globally,” explained a short animated film screened during the conference. “Combine the reach of the cloud with the power of the crowd. Connect leaders, experts, companies, organizations and citizens. Share your tools, data, designs, successes, and ideas. Turn them into action.”


In practice, this means sponsoring a new crowdsourcing site,, which is designed as a clearinghouse for multidisciplinary projects inviting “mayors, architects, engineers, urban planners, non-profits, multinational companies, and others to freely share ideas, tools, and resources.” This is similar to the Open Architecture Network created by 2006 TED Prize winner and Architecture for Humanity founder Cameron Sinclair. That community of more than 13,000 34,000 architects and other professionals has developed 1,200 7,000 projects to date. has a long way to go to reach that size–as of Thursday morning, half the site’s links produced the message “coming soon.”

The awarding of prize money has been deferred until the TED Global conference in June, when TED will distribute 10 grants of $10,000 each to local projects in various cities. The site itself has received backing from the Knight Foundation (in the form of a $250,000 grant) and services in kind from IBM, Autodesk, and Streetline–all of which are building businesses around “smart cities” and urban informatics. How the 10 grants will be awarded remains to be seen. TED says it will announce details sometime in the next month.

“With the City 2.0, the TED Prize has embarked on the ultimate design challenge,” TED Curator Chris Anderson said in a statement. “This is a global call for collaborative action on one of the biggest issues of our day. The new platform we’re launching today is designed to empower citizens to connect with each other to help reshape their own cities. And it’s designed to be open-tent. Numerous other organizations and individuals have been involved in this issue for years, and this platform allows them to share their successes, resources, and insights with the rest of the world.”

TED has stressed the open-tent, collaborative nature of this year’s prize since the announcement in December. But the implementation of its wish appears to have happened behind typically closed doors. TED hosted a “City 2.0 Wish Brainstorm” meeting in January to which it invited executives from IBM, Autodesk, and Razorfish (which ultimately built the site) along with the economist Paul Romer, the architect Joshua Prince-Ramus, former Google global public policy director Andrew McLaughlin, and Long Beach vice-mayor Suja Lowenthal, all of whom were asked to make brief presentations, synthesize their individual wishes, “and attempt to write a draft wish based on the discussion.”

Lowenthal spoke at TED Wednesday shortly before the announcement of the prize wish. She was joined on stage in a special cities session by the Harvard economist Ed Glaeser and Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, who demonstrated the city-wide operations center created at his behest by IBM. It was “the reason why I could be here,” Paes said, according to TED’s Twitter account. “I can govern my city from here in Long Beach.”

About the author

He is the author, with John D. Kasarda, of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, which examines how and where we choose to live in an interconnected world.