CITIES - PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE PERFECT

20-22 May, Chicago 2015 

"It all began in Chicago" - the theme of the BCO 2015 Conference was "Cities - Past, Present and Future Perfect", and there was no better place in the world than the City of Chicago to discuss and debate the important role of cities in shaping the places in which we work.

Chicago is the home of house music, of the blues, of bootlegging, indeed it was the first American city to have a homosexual rights organisation, founded in 1924 and in 1942 Enrico Femi conducted the world's first nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago, creating technology which led ultimately to the Manhattan Project and the nuclear bomb.

In 1885, Chicago created the world's first structural steel framed office building - the Home Insurance Building, and followed it up in 1974 with the tallest building in the world then, the Sears (now Willis) Tower.

Chicago is a city of invention and of re-invention - and it proved to be a perfect place to host the 415 delegates who attended the 2015 BCO Conference.

As always, the key content came from the four plenary sessions - which were all hugely well received. Richard Kauntze kicked off with an excellent discussion on "The State of the Nations", with a lively debate between David Blanchflower (Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College) and Robert Guest (The Economist) on the future of the global economy, alongside an insightful analysis on capital markets on both sides of the Atlantic from Roy March (CEO of Eastdil Secured).

This was followed by an excellent session on "Liveable Cities", chaired by John Forrester, with provocative talks from Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute and Howard Tullman, Founder and CEO of 1871, an extraordinarily successful co-working and accelerator space located in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago (and the subject of one of the afternoon's tours). Berenna Berman responded on behalf of the City of Chicago, to set out the way that the Rahm Emanuel administration is approaching this key topic.

On Friday morning, Lee Polisano chaired a fascinating discussion of "The Intelligent City", in which work/life guru Thimon de Jong set out his vision for the way technology will shape our way of life and the way we work, and James Cheshire of UCL demonstrated how mapping of Big Data can inform the way that cities can respond to this challenge. The panel debate looked at Chicago's role in setting this agenda with masterplanner Peter Ellis and Phil Enquist of SOM.

The final plenary sought to move from the macro to the micro and to explore how the waves of technology and global influences are actually affecting the workplace. Entitled "Work Smart", Richard Greenwald from Brooklyn College, Bernice Boucher from JLL and Mat Gray from Builtworks in Chicago discussed how modern day businesses are coping with the impact of demographic changes which have led to an increasing number of self-employed entrepreneurial workers demanding more of their workplaces.

While the plenaries provided the "thought pieces" for the Conference, the key attraction for the delegates was undoubtedly the City of Chicago itself. The tours, which were excellently organised by Bill Price and Nick Searl were a second-to-none, "once in a lifetime" opportunity not just to visit but also to get behind the scenes and to hear from the people who actually designed some of the world's most iconic buildings, in this great, world renowned metropolis.

With nearly half of them involving an opportunity to see Chicago from the river, the tours were packed out with delegates visiting some of the most famous buildings in the world, as well as getting the opportunity to see how Chicago's infrastructure and arts and cultural programme underpins the success of the city.

As ever, the golf was keenly contested with the BCO Ryder Cup being won by the European's, though it was an American delegate who carried off the trophy itself.

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