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Great River Cities’ COVID response

Read our March 2021 report:

Great River Cities: The Impact of COVID-19 on Long-Term Plans

Rivers serve many constituencies. Rivers are for trade, for travel, for sport, for recreation, for environmental regeneration and, no less important, they are places to pause, lift our eyes and draw inspiration. Our report looks at how the world's Great River Cities are plotting a course for recovery by leveraging the rivers at their hearts.

Read the report now


Photo: © Jason Hawkes

This 28 October online gave insight into how the world’s Great River Cities are responding to the global pandemic. How are the emerging issues shaping river use today and what are the implication for the future?

Global advisor, scholar and writer, Professor Greg Clark CBE, our keynote speaker, shared findings of an intelligence gathering exercise undertaken  with river cities around the world, mapping the trends in response. Representatives from London, Brisbane, New York, Kolkata and Vienna shared perspectives on how these trends are playing out for their cities, before we open to questions and wider discussion.

The event was chaired by PLA non-executive director and chair of the board’s Thames Vision committee Paula Carter. Speakers included: Robin Mortimer, chief executive of the PLA; John Aitken, managing director of Inspiring Cities, Brisbane; Vinit Kumar, chairman, Kolkata Port Trust; Carolyn Grossman Meagher, director of regional planning, NYC Department of City Planning; and Maria Vassilakou, Vienna Solutions; and Christopher Rodrigues CBE, chairman of the PLA board.

The research that was presented is available as a PDF here.

Programme for #GRC20

10.00 am Welcome and introductions – Paula Carter, non-executive director, Port of London Authority

10.05 am Keynote address: Great River Cities’ pandemic response, Professor Greg Clark CBE

10.25 am City experiences

  • London – Robin Mortimer, chief executive, Port of London Authority
  • New York - Carolyn Grossman Meagher, director of regional planning, NYC Department of City Planning
  • Brisbane – John Aitken, Inspiring Cities Pty Ltd
  • Vienna – Maria Vassilakou, Vienna Solutions
  • Kolkata – Vinit Kumar, chairman, Kolkata Port Trust

10.55 am Panel question & answers

11.15 am Emerging themes and conclusions – Christopher Rodrigues CBE, chairman, Port of London Authority

11.25 am Event close – Paula Carter, PLA


Keynote Speaker

Professor Greg Clark CBE


Professor Greg Clark CBE is global advisor, scholar/writer, non-executive director and board chairman. Expertise covers city economies/investment, technology & innovation, urban governance, city strategic planning, real estate & urban form, regional transport, place leadership and national policies. He provides thought leadership with global organisations on the evolution of the metropolitan century. Supports leaders in more than 100 cities world-wide on strategic futures, and advises global firms on the enterprise opportunities of an urbanising world. Author of 10 books and 100 reports.

Event Chair

Paula Carter


Paula Carter joined the PLA as a non-executive director on 1 June 2018. She worked for 30 years in broadcasting, most recently as director of planning and board secretary at Channel 4 where she was responsible for all corporate planning. Before joining Channel 4 in 2007 she held senior policy and management roles at the BBC and ITV and worked as an advisor to various government departments, regulators and agencies on communications matters including the joint Parliamentary committee that scrutinised the Communications Bill in 2002. Before joining the BBC in 1989 she worked in advertising in the UK and New Zealand. She is an elected member of the Wine Society, a trustee of the productivity movement “Be the Business”, a magistrate on the South East London Bench, chair of governors at St Michael's School in Otford and sits on RFU and European Rugby disciplinary panels.


John Aitken


John Aitken has played a leading role in shaping Brisbane and the importance of its river since the 1980’s including a series of major events and city activations as the founder of the Brisbane River Festival and the city’s largest annual celebration Riverfire. As the CEO of Brisbane’s economic development board (Brisbane Marketing) John’s focus included attracting investment to bring Brisbane’s aspiration to be ‘Australia’s new world city’ to life. From 2017, John’s current business Inspiring Cities has championed initiatives to activate the river’s edge and encourage investment in on water activity linking Brisbane to the pristine waterways and islands of Moreton Bay.

Carolyn Grossman Meagher
New York


Carolyn Grossman Meagher heads the Regional Planning Division within New York City’s Planning Department. Initiated in June 2016 following a recommendation from One New York, NYC’s long term strategic plan, the Regional Planning Division seeks to support New York City’s collaboration with governments across the region on issues of shared planning priority. Prior to this position, Carolyn served as the director of governmental affairs for the Department of City Planning, leading political outreach efforts for the city’s land use and rezoning initiatives. She has also worked in political and real estate development consulting in NYC, and holds a Masters in Urban Planning with distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the New College of Florida.

Robin Mortimer


Robin Mortimer joined the PLA as chief executive officer on 31 March 2014. Prior to joining the PLA, Robin had 20 years’ experience in the UK Government civil service, working on transport, environment, infrastructure and overseas development. He was private secretary to the deputy prime minister from 1997-1998 and later to the Secretary of State for Transport from 2001-2003. In 2007, he became a director in Defra where he led the Government’s Adapting to Climate Change programme, oversaw the creation of the Canal & River Trust and directed policy on farming and the environment. Robin is a member of the CBI’s London Council and, since 2012, a trustee of the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, a Cambridge based charity. He is a trustee of Thames 21 and a director of Estuary Services Ltd.

Christopher Rodrigues CBE


Christopher Rodrigues became chairman of the British Council in May 2016, having already become chairman of the Port of London Authority in January 2016, the chairman of Openwork in January 2014 and the chairman of the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association in August 2013. He was chairman of VisitBritain from 2007 – 2017; Chairman of International Personal Finance and Windsor Leadership from 2007 – 2015; Chairman of The Almeida Theatre from 2008 – 2016, and in July 2016 stepped down as a council member and trustee of the National Trust. He was on the executive committee of the World Travel and Tourism Council from 2007 – 2016. Christopher is a graduate of Cambridge University and the Harvard Business School. He rowed for Cambridge in the 1970 and 1971 Boat Races, is a past-Chairman of Leander Club and is a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta. He was made visiting professor at the University of Surrey in 2009 and a visiting professor at Cranfield School of Management in 2010. He was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of the University of Surrey (DUniv) in April 2013. In May 2018 he became an ambassador for the World Travel and Tourism Council. Christopher was made a Commander of the British Empire in the 2007 New Year Honours list for services to British business interests and charitable works in the UK and USA.

Vinit Kumar


Shri Vinit Kumar, took over charge as chairman, Kolkata Port Trust in October 2017. Shri Vinit Kumar was chief electrical engineer in Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation Ltd, looking after World Bank funded MUTP project before joining Kolkata Port Trust as chairman. He was previously secretary Central Railway and gained experience in general administration. Shri Kumar worked in Central Railway in Mumbai suburban system, one of the densest suburban system in the world in maintenance and operations of rolling stock and traction installations. He also worked in Pune and Nagpur in independent charge of traction assets and locomotive workshop. He has wide experience in operation, maintenance, infrastructure development and general administration of railways. He did BE electrical from Delhi College of Engineering, Delhi and PGDBA marketing from Symbiosis. Shri Kumar attended training programme on Management in ICLIF, Malaysia and Insead Singapore.

Maria Vassilakou


Maria Vassilakou is an experienced urban leader who served as Vienna’s Deputy Mayor for Urban Planning, Traffic & Transport, Climate Protection, Energy and Public Participation for almost ten years from November 2010. As Deputy Mayor, she implemented a transformation agenda comprising numerous innovative projects, contributing substantially to Vienna’s high rankings in major international liveability rankings within the last decade. Maria now works worldwide as an independent advisor on urban transformation, building flexible teams to deliver complex urban projects. She strongly advocates sustainable urban development and gentle mobility.