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UIX Q&A: Jessie Feller, Meeting of the Minds

Meeting of the Minds
Meeting of the Minds -
Meeting of the Minds is an invitation-only conference that brings together 350 opinion-shapers, policy-makers, leading thinkers and innovators from every sector. The conference is two-plus days of intensive exchange for leaders creating more sustainable cities using smarter design tools, sounder environmental practices, and cleaner energy systems. Among the dozens of international leaders who speak at Meeting of the Minds are innovators scaling-up practical urban innovation in infrastructure, design, technology, energy, transport, water, finance – all are building more livable cities. At Meeting of the Minds, leaders from multiple sectors and diverse geographies share ideas and shape a common agenda.

Meeting of the Minds will hold its annual conference in Detroit this year. Here Managing Director Jessie Feller introduces Detroiters to the concept in anticipation of the conference being held September 30 through October 2. 

UIX: Tell us a little about Meeting of the Minds. How did it start? What's the idea behind it? 
Jessie Feller: Meeting of the Minds started eight years ago as a neutral platform for leaders to find a common urban sustainability agenda and build lasting partnerships for change. It began as a small conference under Urban Age Institute (a nonprofit based in San Francisco) and has grown into one of the premier annual leadership summits focused on urban sustainability, innovation and connected technology. Over the course of time, it has become more and more apparent that urban issues are complex and interconnected, revealing that urban mobility, for instance, is inextricably tied to technology, energy, infrastructure, urban design, equity, collaboration models, policy, financing, etc. Meeting of the Minds aims to connect the dots between these seemingly disparate sectors to reveal solutions that accelerate the transition to sustainable cities.
Our goal is to bring together the private, public, nonprofit, academic, and philanthropic sectors for two and a half days of intense exchange. Our aim is to bring leaders from each of these sectors around the same table to develop strategies together. Through year-round programming (which includes a blog, monthly webinars, monthly meetups, and smaller events), we hope that leaders are able to share new solutions that are scalable, replicable and transferable to their cities. 
It's clear that no one can improve the future of cities without the help of partners with resources, technology solutions, and a little hutzpah. Connecting sectors and building a larger ecosystem of leaders is essential to the future of our cities and regions and most importantly, the citizens living in them. Meeting of the Minds attracts leaders who know that collaboration is a key success factor and can see beyond traditional boundaries. We have seen some amazing collaborations take place through our conference and smaller events. You never know who you are going to meet and how they might help you untangle an intractable problem that you were grappling with on your own. This spontaneous encounter is what we are most inspired by.
Detroit is the site of your annual conference in September. Why Detroit?
Our partners at NextEnergy and SMART (University of Michigan) have been encouraging us to host Meeting of the Minds in Detroit for a couple of years. Aniela Kuzon, Jean Redfield and Susan Zielinski are all powerhouses who are truly committed to the future of the region. They have helped us see some of the groundbreaking work being done in Detroit. 
Detroit is a hotbed of activity for urbanists and change makers and is definitely at a tipping point in its urban revitalization efforts. As a conference focused on urban innovation, we have been inspired by the people we've met in Detroit and their bootstrap mentality to get stuff done. Detroit has proven that there is a plethora of talented entrepreneurs and urbanists there who are testing and experimenting with new solutions despite a lack of resources. We're excited by the energy and commitment that we've found among our Detroit partners and friends. It's clear that Detroit will be a great laboratory to hold the conference in and a dynamic background for a larger discussion about cities in general. We hope to bring something of value to the city and we know our delegates will take home tools and lessons that they can use to improve their own cities.
What are some key questions the conference will be asking?
Some of the key questions we will be exploring before and during the event are: How are cities redefining themselves? How are cities creating cleaner and smarter industry clusters? How do we attract talent and retain them? How do we define a truly smart city? How do we fairly serve and provide economic opportunities for all the city's residents? What new technologies and services are now available that can scaled to provide a higher quality of life? How do we revitalize downtowns and suburbs?
When it comes to building smarter, more sustainable cities, what excites you most about the future?
Cities are the engines of both economic, social, and technological innovation. With the right leaders, ingredients and focus, cities can become the sites of opportunity for all citizens. Moreover, cities offer a real opportunity to achieve sustainability and lower our carbon impact. Cities provide the density necessary to take advantage of shared infrastructure and new mobility options, two major areas where carbon impacts can be made. For the first time, it's possible for companies to turn a profit and be in the sustainability business. Clean energy and energy efficiency, as an example, offer so many opportunities for a new economy to be formed to put people back to work while also making our cities cleaner, greener and more livable. Urban entrepreneurs are coming up with new solutions everyday and 100-year old companies are now getting in the business of sustainability. It's an exciting time to be involved in the future of smart and sustainable cities.
How can "city-minded" Detroiters learn more about Meeting of the Minds?
"City-minded" Detroiters can learn more about Meeting of the Minds by visiting our website at http://cityminded.org/. We invite anyone who is passionate and interested in urban sustainability, innovation and connected technology to join the discussion and share their projects, initiatives and ideas with the group. Some of the best ways to become involved in the discussion: subscribe to our newsletter, participate in one of our monthly webinars, comment on our blog and connect with us on Twitter @meetoftheminds. All of our events, including webinars and meetups, are listed on our event page here: http://cityminded.org/calendar/. We look forward to meeting you.
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