It was a day of firsts at the opening celebration for the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University. The center is the first of its kind in uniting cities-focused expertise.
It’s the first in the world to focus on strengthening hundreds of local governments and their leadership on a global scale.
And it was the first time at Harvard that the president gave out an honorary key, in a nod to the “keys to the city” that mayors habitually award.
The key was a way to recognize Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies and 108th mayor of New York City. The University-wide center was founded in 2021 with a gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
“If only I had this key when I was a student,” Bloomberg joked during his keynote remarks. “When I attended Harvard Business School, around one-third of the world’s population lived in cities. Today, it’s a little more than half. This demographic shift in history presents all kinds of opportunities to build a healthier, more prosperous, more equitable world.”
Accomplishing that goal, Bloomberg said, will require everything the center is focusing on—innovation, collaboration, idea-sharing, and the tools that make for effective leadership.
The event was hosted at Harvard Kennedy School, home to the center’s new workspace. The center occupies approximately 12,000 square feet and has been designed to support collaborative and multidisciplinary curriculum, programming, and research.
“The center serves the public good through scholarly work and engagement with current and future public servants,” said Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow. “We hope they will follow in Mayor Bloomberg’s footsteps.”
Jorrit de Jong, director of the Bloomberg Center for Cities, stressed the importance of building networks and fostering multidisciplinary research.
“In a rapidly urbanizing world, it will take the expertise from all academic disciplines to navigate challenges in cities,” said de Jong, the Emma Bloomberg Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management. “We’re deeply fortunate to have a large community of scholars, from schools across Harvard, who have already committed their expertise.”
The celebration was attended by current and former mayors from nearby and across the country, including alumni of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, the center’s flagship program.
A panel, moderated by Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, included Kathy Sheehan, mayor of Albany, New York; Elizabeth Linos, the Emma Bloomberg Associate Professor of Public Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School and faculty director of The People Lab; and Nicolas Diaz Amigo MPP 2020, Chief Innovation and Data Officer for the city of Syracuse, New York.
The center aspires to have a widespread impact on the future of cities, spurring progress for residents. As Bloomberg said, there is much at stake.
“The work happening here couldn’t be more important,” he said.