Learning Cities

Cities are the main engines of economic growth in the modern world, and learning is one of the most important fuels of that growth. In recognition of this, many urban communities are developing innovative strategies that allow their citizens – young and old – to learn new skills and competencies throughout life, thereby transforming their cities into ‘learning cities’.

What is a Learning City?

In the global context, cities differ in their cultural and ethnic composition, and in their heritage and social structures. However, many characteristics of a learning city are shared. The Beijing Declaration on Building Learning Cities defines a learning city as one which effectively mobilises its resources to:

• promote inclusive learning from basic to higher education;
• re-vitalise learning in families and communities;
• facilitate learning for and in the workplace;
• extend the use of modern learning technologies;
• enhance quality and excellence in learning; and 
• nurture a culture of learning throughout life.

In so doing, a learning city will enable and reinforce individual empowerment and social cohesion, economic and cultural prosperity, and sustainable development.

Why Learning Cities?

The idea of learning throughout life is ancient; it has always been an essential survival feature of humanity and is deeply rooted in all cultures.

We live in a fast-changing world, where social, economic and political norms are constantly being redefined. Studies have shown that lifelong learners – citizens who acquire new knowledge, skills and attitudes in a wide range of contexts – are better equipped to adapt to changes in their environments. Lifelong learning, and the idea of the learning society, therefore have a vital role to play in our generation’s transition to sustainable societies.

The vision to build lifelong learning strategies for a learning society must first come from national governments. However, we know that lasting change requires deep roots at a local level. A learning society must be built province by province, city by city, and community by community.

One of the most significant developments in recent years is the growth of ‘learning communities’, ‘learning cities’ and ‘learning regions’. Although the concept has a solid base in developed regions, it is now rapidly springing up in developing countries. In more Member States, local authorities are staking a claim to be learning cities, regions and communities, and the proliferation of these communities is noteworthy. More than 1,000 cities around the world have declared themselves to be learning cities