Author:  Kevin P. Martin, Jr. | Smart & Resilient Cities
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I’ve had the privilege of being a delegate in the Leading Cities annual Exchange Missions since their beginning.  For me, lifelong learning, sharing insight, exchanging knowledge, developing global relationships, building bridges and helping to develop new ideas and platform strategies… it’s been an amazing, deeply personal experience.

In recent years, delegates have traveled to Haifa, Barcelona, Lisbon and Dublin and this has been the first of hopefully many visits to South America.

On our exchange mission to Rio de Janeiro, we have learned about US business interests in Brazil, global marketplace solutions, sustainable socio-environmental development, port region revitalization, unique knowledge transfer ideas, rapid transfer transportation investment and, of course, the hopeful legacy of the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  It has been a fast-paced and culturally rich mission.

And yet, amid the many learning gems from these many take-a-way smart city topics, on a seemingly daily basis, I could not can’t help but feel enveloped by the art deco statue, Christ the Redeemer (Portuguese: Cristo Redentor).

Is faith part of a smart city?  Is it part of the conversation?

Sitting perched atop Corcovado, Christ the Redeemer is made of soapstone and was created by French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by the Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa in collaboration with the French engineer, Albert Caquot.

It’s big and it’s bold measuring 124 feet tall, including its base, and has a wingspan of 92 feet wide.

At almost every meeting I went to this week, I asked business leaders and city officials what the statue meant to them.  People told me their personal stories but almost overwhelmingly I was told that “for each person it has a different meaning.”   And because of that, because the statue embraces everyone in some way…it is embraced in return.

For some, it’s the ultimate religious symbol, it’s a symbol of faith.  For some, it’s the symbol of a nation and the symbol of a world class city.  For others, it’s a symbol of peace.  For others, it’s is a symbol of hope, welcome, resiliency, hospitality and community.  And yes, for some many more, it’s a tourist attraction…a very big tourist attraction.  No matter how you slice it, these are pretty good, foundational qualities of any leading city.

We continue to learn about what smart cities are…and maybe what they are not…about their design features, planning challenges and complexities, barriers and opportunities. For all of its likely technological platforms, a smart city has vitality, wonder and promotes community goals and values.

Is faith part of a smart city?  Sure, I’d like to think so.  I’d like to think it’s part of the conversation.  I’d like to think that it’s the greatest public-private partnership of all.

But maybe, at a minimum, like Christ the Redeemer meaning different things to different people, the qualities of a smart city, too, means different things to different people…all of it with wonder…with faith in its community…and maybe, just maybe, that is my biggest and broadest take-a-way from this exchange mission.

No matter their background, as so many people told me again and again on this trip about the Christ the Redeemer statue, “I’m aware of it every day.”  I would call that faith…others would call that a smart city…maybe it’s both, maybe it’s smart faith, maybe it’s two wings on which the human spirit rises.

Kevin P. Martin, Jr. is the Managing Director of Kevin P. Martin & Associates, a Boston-based CPA and consulting firm.  Kevin specializes in affordable housing development and building sustainable communities.  He is also a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Boston.

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