Editor’s Picks: 4 TEDx Talks on building the city of the future

This Friday, TED is throwing this big TEDCity2.0 event in New York -- looking at the past, present and future of cities. For our Editor’s Picks this week, we’re hosting our own tribute to urban innovation with four talks that explore some of the big questions facing our cities today. Each speaker has worked on a challenge unique to their community, and their solutions may surprise you — from houses that float in Boston Harbor to streetlights home to carbon dioxide-sucking microalgae. Here’s how they’re shaping the city of the future:

Turning urban youth into global citizens: Angela Jackson at TEDxProvidence
Angela Jackson saw the lack of opportunities for New York’s most disadvantaged children and knew she had to help improve the quality of public education. The Global Language Project gives students the chance to become proficient in a foreign language, equipping them with useful skills, broader cultural horizons and the chance for a better future. 

Glowing streetlamps that absorb COwith algae: Pierre Calleja at TEDxLausanneChange
French biochemist Pierre Calleja has invented a streetlamp which doubles as a habitat for microalgae that consume carbon dioxide. In fact, microalgae are responsible for producing half the oxygen in our atmosphere. These beautiful lights are not only practical, but this symbiotic technology could help in the fight against rising carbon emissions and climate change.


Pop-up houses improve South African slums: Andreas Keller at TEDxWWF
Andreas Keller set out to improve the appalling conditions of South Africa’s slums. With effective insulation, proper ventilation, and solar power replacing dirty fuels, iShacks provide a much healthier and safer temporary accommodation for some of the poorest urban citizens in South Africa. And, the program helps locals get involved in the design and management of their neighborhoods.

Floating neighborhoods reimagine coastal living: Brian Healy at TEDxBoston
Sea levels are rising, and coastal homes are now at risk of flooding. Architect Brian Healy thinks we can avoid disaster by building our houses right on top of the water — an idea so crazy he thinks it just might work. He shows off his designs for floating residential complexes built out of lightweight concrete tubes. With communal living spaces and even wetland courtyards, neglected city harbors could become lovely places to live

When I was 4 years old I realized that I was different: [I felt like a boy, but everyone] perceived me as a girl. I was born female. Biological female. I learned that I would never grow a penis and for that I could never change into a boy. This was one of the bitterest insights I had in my life… [Yet] I had a happy childhood. I loved to play outside and my parents were very open-minded … I had a carefree life and the little difference between my legs didn’t really matter.

But then, my puberty starts and everything started to change. My body changed [in] a direction I never wanted and I felt very alone and misunderstood. They brought me to psychiatrists, but they didn’t find out what really was going on in my head. I fought an inner, silent battle with my soul and my body…

[Eventually] I asked myself, ‘Am I really happy? Is this my life?’ No, it was not my life and I was not happy at all. I made my biggest decision in my life. I took heart and started to write letters to my friends, to my patients, and even to my colleagues, and I explained that I wanted to live as a man — not only inside, but also outside…I started hormonal therapy and my body responded very well and very fast to this treatment. After a few months I could look into the mirror and I saw my soul in my face…

Could you imagine, in this world, that people get killed because of that? Because they want to be true to themselves? It is a crime that every year hundreds of transsexual men and women have to die because they took heart to live in another gender role than the one they were assigned to at birth. Only because they look different and do not fit into the gender binary or do not fit into the categories…

I think we have to break down the taboo of transsexualism…I think we have to become visible to gain acceptance, and with acceptance we will earn understanding. And, so, I believe we can make the world a better place for all of us…

Being transsexual or transgender is not a matter of pathology, it is a matter of diversity…I found out with my visible masculinity, it is not necessary anymore to find if I’m more female or male. I finally can say, I feel as myself. I stand here in front of you because I want to encourage everybody to become true to his or her life — and to accept the truth of everybody’s life.

From Dr. Niklaus Fluetsch’s talk, “My true gender identity,” given at TEDxZug. Born biologically female, Niklaus took a leap of faith in 2007 — after years of struggle — and now lives openly as a man. For more on his story, watch his entire talk here.

My true gender identity: Niklaus Fluetsch at TEDxZug

Niklaus Fluetsch was born female but always knew he was male. Having built a successful medical career as a woman, he took a leap of faith in 2007 after years of struggle, and now lives openly as a man. In a heartfelt and inspiring talk at TEDxZug, he urges more transsexual and transgender people to come out, and for all people to have the courage to be true to themselves. (Filmed at TEDxZug )

Each week, we choose four of our favorite talks, highlighting just a few of the enlightening speakers from the TEDx community, and its diverse constellation of ideas worth spreading. Browse all TEDxTalks here »