What is a Learning City?

A Learning City is both a proclamation and a strategy to map and support all of a cities’ lifelong learning initiatives


I discovered the Learning City idea when I first heard about the 2nd International Conference on Learning Cities in Mexico City.

To me, a Learning City is both a proclamation and a strategy to map and support all of a cities’ lifelong learning initiatives. Once an initial network is built, a Learning City usually tries to figure out what kind of learning should be prioritized, for whom, and by whom.

That’s my best definition, here’s another:

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.

UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities outlines the key features of a Learning City (in the shape of UNESCO’s logo – well done! )


That’s a lot of learning!

I like the idea that a Learning City can create a network between learning initiatives from “cradle to grave”. Consider all the agencies, staff, volunteers, events, programs, and spaces that go into lifelong learning initiatives like schools, libraries, cultural learning programs. A network that agrees to a collective learning strategy has a much stronger capacity to guide and support them all.

If you’re ready for a bigger read (166 pages), take a look at the latest report Unlocking the Potential of Urban Communities: Case Studies of Twelve Learning Cities, which shares some best practices and a variety of approaches to the Learning City concept including cases from Bahir Dar (Ethiopia), Amman (Jordan), and Namyangju (South Korea).

Although Canada is not featured in the report, Canadians have certainly contributed plenty to the idea of the Learning City. Major strategies and programs have been well-documented and continue to thrive in cities such as Vancouver, Edmonton, and Sudbury.

In the next couple months, I might try to create to a short summary of my favourite initiatives from the Case Studies of  Twelve Learning Cities report.  Sneak peak! Learning Lighthouses (South Korea), Flexible Places for Learning  (Finland), Lifelong Learning Festival (Ireland).