At Worth Cities: Innovation and the Rising City this past June in Charleston, SC, the authenticity of people’s commitment to their communities and the urban future took center stage. Under the charming roof of The Mills House, a diverse group of passionate stakeholders, investment advisors, thought leaders, policymakers, elected officials, philanthropists, businesspeople, academics, and entrepreneurs came together to exchange ideas on how to drive innovation and explore emerging trends across U.S. cities. 

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The conference kicked off with a warm welcome from Worth Media’s CEO Josh Kampel and founder and chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com, Jim McCann. Dan Costa, Worth Media’s chief content officer followed, pointing out the urgency to redesign how we build communities, the event’s main theme. 

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In a session on revolutionizing urban housing, Roland Pearson, the driving force behind the Habitat for Humanity Terwillinger Center for Innovation in Shelter, emphasized the power of collaborative efforts within the housing ecosystem and the necessity of a systems change approach. In parallel, Edith Hsu-Chen from the New York City Department of City Planning discussed the future of city centers. To revitalize urban cores into dynamic, resilient economic and cultural hubs, she says we need “innovative urban planning, sustainable development strategies, and inclusive community engagement.” ‘

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Rebecca Fannin, author of Silicon Heartland, shared her insights on how cities across the Midwest are evolving into thriving technology hubs, leveraging unique strengths to foster entrepreneurial ecosystems. 

The conferenced delved into the importance of reckoning with nuanced, historical racial tensions within a community, one of Charleston’s main foci. Lissa Frenkel from Gaillard, Henry Beecher Hicks from the National Museum of African American Music, and Dr. Tonya Matthews from the recently inaugurated International African American Museum explored the vital role of museums in fostering understanding, addressing systemic issues, and envisioning a more inclusive and equitable future for the cultural institutions and communities they serve.

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“Redefining Cities: Promoting Inclusion and Economic Development” was a standout session. 

Explore Charleston, represented by Helen Hill, highlighted their commitment to fostering equitable opportunities and empowering local communities. Martha Sheridan from Meet Boston joined the panel to discuss innovative approaches and best practices for breaking down barriers and addressing concerns head-on. They offered valuable insights on how embracing diversity and driving sustainable economic growth go hand in hand. 

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Beloved local entrepreneur Femi Oyediran from Graft Wine Shop & Wine Bar highlighted the transformative impact of investing in new ventures rooted in a community, emphasizing the role of small businesses in shaping a city’s cultural fabric and unique character. Barbara Melvin from the South Carolina Ports Authority and Doug Warner from Explore Charleston captivated attendees with the Union Pier Project, a current example of transforming urban waterfronts into vibrant community spaces. They discussed the challenges, opportunities, and best practices for harmoniously integrating natural surroundings when building mixed-use developments.

Thanks to the esteemed speakers in these sessions, participants left Innovation and the Rising City with a wealth of knowledge, feeling motivated and equipped to drive positive change in their own communities.