Three years ago, I eagerly accepted the assignment to lead Next City, a well-respected nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities through journalism and events around the world. Chief among my goals were to build board and staff capacity, enhance our reach and make our journalism and events even more impactful. While no job is ever truly done, I’m proud to say these and other goals have been achieved, and I leave with a well-deserved satisfaction that there is a solid foundation for an organization that started in 2003 with three volunteers who wanted to build a new conversation about the future of cities.
As many readers know, our journalism has taken several forms over the last three years. Long-form features about cities around the world drove a more impactful conversation about urban policy through solutions-oriented journalism. In addition to our articles, news posts and op-eds, we produced a mini-documentary, video dispatches and podcasts that have advanced the cause of urbanism across the globe. We entered into new partnerships with Citi and the National Recreation and Parks Alliance to produce The Bottom Line and The Power of Parks — two new series that bring important information and perspectives to our readers. With a new editorial team led by our outstanding editors Kelly Regan and Oscar Abello, I am confident that the next great chapter will be written in the story of cities.
My publisher’s posts have brought readers inside the minds of great urbanists around the world, addressing the complexities and contradictions of tools and technologies that have the potential to affect millions of people. While I loved every interview, conference and book I read, I must say I prefer leaders who take risks, places that prioritize inclusion, and interventions that ensure cities grow into places you want to live, work and visit. Sharing my experiences and insights through a post wasn’t my first priority when I took this job, but these opportunities expanded my horizons and helped me better understand how to inspire change in cities.
Several of my posts built on Next City events, including our Vanguard conferences. I am especially proud that we grew this program into the conference for rising urbanists, and for the first time brought young innovators to cities outside of the U.S. Vanguard 2015 in Reno was my third day on the job — talk about a trial by fire! In 2016, we explored the Buffalo Bayou in Houston before and after floods, a reminder of the importance of designing infrastructure in ways that anticipate natural and man-made disasters. Last year, in Montreal and Newcastle, Australia, we brought urbanists together to tackle equity and apply lessons to legacy cities. Each Vanguard program partnership was critical to our success, but in the end, it remains the Vanguards themselves who continue to inspire change in these and other cities.
Finding ways to connect cities across the U.S. and around the world wasn’t always easy. However, our World Stages in Quito and Kuala Lumpur, advocacy for addressing climate change at COP21 as well as our work with UN Habitat to create and implement the New Urban Agenda gave Next City unparalleled access to urbanists with a passion for cities and a record of accomplishment. As a mission-driven organization with an avowed advocacy for better cities, Next City led the media coverage of Habitat III and World Urban Forum 9 and continues to be the go-to source.
All the while, we never forgot our roots. Through our Philadelphia in Flux project, we engaged elected and appointed officials, civic leaders, researchers, design professionals and others who care about the neighborhoods in and around our office to document the changing face of our city. From civic infrastructure to “redlining,” Next City shared lessons learned here with urbanists everywhere.
As I plan my next stage in life — I’ve stopped thinking about what I want to do when I grow up — I treasure these and other memories and thank you, dear readers, for continuing to challenge us to inspire change in cities. As a believer in Daniel Burnham’s “Make No Little Plans,” I look forward to the next big thing. I know that my experiences at Next City have strengthened my resolve to bring more voices to the conversation, engage more leaders to be bold and empower more people to participate, speak up and work toward common solutions.
I encourage you to continue to read Next City and to be active in your city. And, if you’d like, follow me on Twitter @TDallessio.
Tom was president, CEO and publisher of Next City from May 2015 until April 2018. Before joining Next City, he directed the Center for Resilient Design at the College of Architecture and Design at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Prior to that, he ran the Regional Plan Association’s New Jersey office, and served as a senior adviser on land use for two New Jersey governors. Tom is a licensed professional planner, and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, as well as an adjunct professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he teaches land use planning and infrastructure planning.