The Next Level: Communities That Learn

This week is the annual summit of the Intelligent Community Forum, where I’m Senior Fellow. Although there are workshops and meetings of the more than 140 intelligent communities from every continent, the events that draws the most attention are the discussions with the Top7 of the year and the ultimate winner.

image

These intelligent communities are leaders in using information technology and broadband communications for community and economic development. They represent the next level up from those cities which label themselves “smart” because of their purchases of products from various tech companies to manage the infrastructure of their cities – like street light management.

But intelligent communities should not to be satisfied with merely going
beyond vendor-driven “smart city” talk and they should instead
ascend

to the next level – create a community that is always
learning.

For a bit of background, consider the efforts over the last two decades to create learning organizations – companies, non-profits and government agencies that are trying to continuously learn what’s happening in their markets or service areas.

The same idea applies to less structured organizations, like the community of people who live and/or work in a city.

It’s worth noting, that unlike many of the big data projects in cities, this is not a top-down exercise by experts. It’s about everyone engaging in the process of learning new insights about where they live and work. That volunteer effort also makes it feasible for cash-starved local governments to consider initiating this kind of project.

In this sense, this is another manifestation of the citizen science movement around the world. Zooniverse, with more than a million volunteer citizen scientists, is probably the best example. Think Zooniverse for urban big data.

There are other examples in which people collect and analyze data. Geo-Wiki’s motto is “Engaging Citizens in Environmental Monitoring.” There’s also the Air Quality Egg, a “community-led air quality sensing network that gives people a way to participate in the conversation about air quality.”

image

Similarly, there’s the Smart Citizen project to create “open source technology for citizens political participation in smarter cities”, that was developed in Fab Lab Barcelona. The Sensible City Lab at MIT has even equipped a car for environmental and traffic safety sensing.

Drones are already used for environmental sensing in rural areas, but as they become a bit safer and their flight times (i.e., batteries) get better, they will be able to stay up longer for real time data collection in cities. A small company in Quebec City, DroneXperts, is already making use of drones in urban areas.

Indeed, as each day goes by, there is more and more data about life in our communities that could be part of this citizen science effort — and not just environmental data.

Obviously, a city’s own data, on all kinds of topics and from all kinds of data collection sensors, is a part of the mix.  City government’s even have information they are not aware of. Placemeter, for example, can use “public video feeds and computer vision algorithms to create a real-time data layer about places, streets, and neighborhoods.”   

There are non-governmental sources of data, like Waze’s Connected Citizens exchange for automobile traffic are also available.

Sentiment
data from social media feeds is another source. Even data from
individual residents could be made available (on an anonymous basis)
from their various personal tracking devices, like Fitbit. For
background, see John Lynch’s talk a year ago on “From Quantified Self to Quantified City”.

Naturally,
all of this data about a community can be an exciting part of public
school classes on science, math and even social studies and the arts.
Learning will become more relevant to the students since they will be
focused on the place in which they live. Students could communicate and
collaborate with each other in the same or separate classrooms or across
the country and the world.

The Cities of Learning
projects that started in Chicago a couple of years ago, which were
primarily about opening up cultural and intellectual institutions
outside of the classroom for K-12 students, were good, but different
from this idea.

So “communities that learn” is not just for students. It is a way for adult residents to achieve Jane Jacob’s vision
of a vibrant, democratic community, but with much more powerful and
insightful 21st century means than were available to her and her
neighbors decades ago.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved @NormanJacknis

The Little Secret Of Long-time Mayors

At the annual summit of the Intelligent Community Forum two weeks
ago, there was a keynote panel consisting of the mayors of three of the
most intelligent cities in the world:

  • Michael Coleman, Mayor of the City of Columbus, Ohio from 2000 through 2015
  • Mayor Rob Van Gijzel, Eindhoven, Netherlands, from 2008-today
  • Paul Pisasale, Mayor, City of Ipswich, Queensland, Australia, from 2004-today
image

Both Eindhoven and Columbus have been selected as the most intelligent community in the world and Ipswich has been in the Top 7.  Columbus also was just selected by the US Government as one of the winners of its Smart City challenge.

The
topic was intriguing (at least to those of us who care about economic
growth): “International Economic & Business Development — Secrets of
international development at the city and region level”.

They
did have interesting things to say about that topic.  Mayor Coleman
pointed out that 3,000 jobs are created for every billion dollars of
global trade that Columbus has.  He reminded the audience that making
global connections for the benefit of the local economy is not a
one-time thing as it takes years to build relationships that will
flourish into deep global economic growth.

That reminder of the
long term nature of creating economic growth was a signal of the real
secrets they discussed — how to survive a long time in elected office
and create a flourishing city.

Part of what distinguishes these
mayors from others is not just their success at being elected because
the voters thought they were doing a good job.  An important part of
their success is their willingness to focus on the long-term, the
future.

By contrast, those mayors and other local officials who
are so worried about re-election instead focus just on short term hits
and, despite that, often end up being defeated.

This requires a
certain personal and professional discipline not to become too easily
distracted by daily events.  For example, Mayor Coleman said he divided
his time into thirds –

  1. Handling the crisis of the day (yes, he did have to deal with that, just not all the time)
  2. Keeping the city operations going smoothly
  3. Developing and implementing a vision for the future

In
another statement of the importance of a future orientation, Mayor
Pisasale declared that “economic development is about jobs for your
kids” — a driving motivation that’s quite different from the standard
economic development projects that are mostly sites for ribbon cuttings
and a photo in the newspaper.

He was serious about this statement
even in his political strategy.  His target groups for the future of the
city are not the usual civic leaders.  Rather he reaches out to
students (and taxi drivers) to be champions for his vision of the
future.

Mayor Van Gijzel pointed out that an orientation to the
future means that you also have to be willing to accept some failures –
something else that you don’t hear often from more risk-averse, but less
successful politicians.  (By the way, there’s a lot more detail about
this in the book, “The City That Creates The Future: Rob van Gijzel’s
Eindhoven”.)

image

This kind of thinking recalls the 1932 declaration by the most
politically successful and re-elected US President, Franklin Roosevelt:

“The
country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands
bold, persistent experimentation.  It is common sense to take a method
and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.  But above
all, try something.”

image

That brings up another important point
in this time of focus on cities.  Innovation and future-orientation is
not just about mayors.  

Presidents aside, another example of long term
vision comes from

Buddy Villines, who was chief executive of Pulaski County (Little Rock, Arkansas) for twenty-two years until the end of 2014.

At
a time when many public officials are disdained by a majority of their
constituents, these long-time mayors – successful both as politicians
and for the people of their cities – should be a model for their more
fearful peers.

image

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/146604084040/the-little-secret-of-long-time-mayors]

The New Urban Exodus

During the last half of the last century, there was much concern
about people leaving cities. Several books explored the phenomenon,
including one titled “Urban Exodus”, a phrase that became almost a rallying cry for urbanists and urban planners.

Many of the cities – even the largest ones – lost population as people moved out to the suburbs and even further to ex-urbs.

Then
over the last decade or two, with a general decrease in crime and
the arrival of both immigrants and young people who grew up elsewhere,
many cities – although certainly not all – were re-populated and turned
around. We read many stories about how these new arrivals are bringing a
new vibrancy to urban areas. And we frequently hear about the various
predictions of the continuing urbanization of the world’s population.

Of course, rural life continues to have its attractive qualities for some people. So, about two years ago, I asked “Will The Best & Brightest Return To The Countryside?
That blog post even had a reference to a New York Times story about
older folks returning to rural life after business careers elsewhere – “A Second Career, Happily in the Weeds”.

A necessary youth movement among farmers has also developed. In western Canada, there is the Young Agrarians
whose motto is “growing the next generation of farmers and food lovers
in Canada”. On the other side of the continent, the Virtual Grange has
run young farmers conferences.

Even more recently, with the
diffusion of information and communications technology, there has
started a new urban exodus, with a more significant twist. This exodus
is not about the movement to the suburbs of middle class families, whose
breadwinners work for large corporations. Rather it is about creative
folks, artists, and others from cities, going past the suburbs, to live
in rural areas where they can practice their craft and/or become
farmers.

The magazine, Modern Farmer, was established to serve
this group of people – in its own special hipster way that would
otherwise be associated with parts of San Francisco or Brooklyn. In a
recent issue, the magazine contained an article “At Home with Jacob and Alissa Hessler of Urban Exodus”.

image

The appropriately named Urban Exodus website describes its founders and cohorts this way:

“The
new age of back to landers. Urban Exodus gives an intimate glimpse into
the spaces and lives of creative urbanites who chose to leave the
concrete jungle for greener pastures. In addition to the idyllic imagery
of rustic farmhouses, working studios and cabins nestled in the woods,
are interviews detailing their journey. These interviews highlight the
triumphs and the struggles they have experienced and the inspirations
they have found since choosing to live a life away from the urban
existences they once knew.“

It’s filled with stories about people like those pictured here:

image

Nor is this just a North American phenomenon. William van den Broek wrote about the same situation in France:

“Many
cities of the world are facing an unexpected phenomenon: urban exodus.
No longer constrained by a localized workspace, an increasing number of
freelancers are enjoying mobility, and ultimately leaving stressful and
polluted cities. After the rural exodus, following the industrial
revolution, are we now facing a digital urban exodus. Perhaps this
movement is now following the digital revolution?”

Any social
trend is complex, especially in the world today. So, for some people,
it’s not a matter of taking leave from the city, but living in both the
city and the country – a combination that technology also makes
possible.  I mentioned Brooklyn before as one of the centers of the
young creatives on the East Coast. Among those splitting their time in
city and country are young Brooklyn families who maintain residences
both in Brooklyn’s urban core and more than a hundred miles away in the
rural parts of the Hudson Valley and Catskills Mountains.

Unfortunately,
rural areas on the wrong side of the digital divide will not be very
inviting to this potential influx of sophisticated folks because those
areas lack the required connectivity to the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, with the creative and idealistic people behind it, this
new urban exodus is very much worth watching.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/139052799904/the-new-urban-exodus]

Reality Becomes More Blended

I’ve blogged before about the blending of the digital and physical to create new kinds of hybrid spaces – here, here, here, here and here.   This blending opens up all kinds of possibilities for new experiences in cities, in entertainment, education, and elsewhere.

(We, at the Gotham Innovation Greenhouse, hope to move this forward as well in a few months – but that’s another story.)

Of course, blended reality is not yet part of the everyday lives of most people.

That
hasn’t stopped creative technologists. There have been several
developments this year which illustrate new kinds of blended reality.  

Here are some that caught my attention.

HoloLens

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced its HoloLens
and “Windows Holographic Platform”. The HoloLens is their version of
virtual reality that lets you see three-dimensional holographic images
in the space around you. 

image

While the obvious gaming uses have already been reported
on, there are other uses, for example, enabling a person to envision
what a building interior would look like from the viewpoint of someone
walking inside. The latter was shown at the Architecture and Design Film Festival.

Of course, since this is a Microsoft product, there have been both enthusiastic and not-so-enthusiastic reviews, sometimes in the same magazine, as you can see if you follow the links.

MagicLeap

Microsoft
also doesn’t always provide leading edge technologies, so there has
been much interest – but not too much information – about a
Florida-based company called Magic Leap which is going beyond the
HoloLens. The company proclaims its aim to mix the physical and virtual
worlds.

image

It has received investments from major competitors of Microsoft,
but until two weeks ago didn’t show much. Then it released a video
showing a person interacting with virtual objects, robots and the solar
system. The company has assured everyone that the video was recorded
just as it happened, without special effects.

Magic Leap’s CEO, Rony Abovitz, was reported
to say

“We are sensing the world — the floor, the people. We’re doing
real-time understanding of the world, so that all these objects can know
where they sit.”

While Microsoft and Magic Leap seem to be mainly
focused on blending reality indoors, others are demonstrating ways that
the virtual and physical can work together outdoors or both indoors and
outdoors.

Samsung

In June, Samsung showed
the latest generation of see-through 55 inch OLED display that seems to
be able to really handle high transparency and strong light going
through it. To add to the feeling, the company has combined it with
Intel’s technology to see and understand what a person is doing with
what’s on the screen.

image

Trilite

While Microsoft and Oculus, among
others, are busy creating devices you can wear over your eyes, in a
sense the real challenge is to create 3D illusions without the need for
glasses. The Technical University of Vienna and Trilite announced their prototype earlier this year.

image

As they describe it:

“A sophisticated laser system sends laser
beams into different directions. Therefore, different pictures are
visible from different angles. The angular resolution is so fine that
the left eye is presented a different picture than the right one,
creating a 3D effect… 3D movies in the cinema only show two different
pictures – one for each eye. The newly developed display, however, can
present hundreds of pictures. Walking by the display, one can get a view
of the displayed object from different sides, just like passing a real
object.”

2wenty Lightworks

More ephemeral, but more dramatic, is the work of the Los Angeles light and media artist, 2wenty, who has created dancing lightworks, such as this:

image

Pixelstick

And for those us who want to paint with light, there is Pixelstick,
which contains 200 full color LEDs controlled by a programmed SD card.
Although it started as a Kickstarter campaign two years ago, it has
graduated from that status.

image

There’s more background in a video at https://youtu.be/TjXvqfWfRi4

This
blending of the physical and the virtual, of art and technology, is at
the very least a lot of fun. More later on its broader significance.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/132476393322/reality-becomes-more-blended]

The Virtual City-State Of All Ohio?

Last week, I attended the conference that launched the new Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community, based in Dublin, Ohio.

image

In the annual evaluation by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF),
Dublin has been among the most intelligent communities in the world for
the last few years. Nearby Columbus, Ohio was designated the most
intelligent community this past June.

The institute will share
innovations and best practices to help make communities more prosperous,
livable, resilient and intelligent. Although using broadband and
technology is a part of the story, the institute is part of the ICF
movement which has distinguished itself by its emphasis as well on all
the other factors that make a community intelligent. As such, the effort
to become an intelligent community involves all elements of a
community, not just technologists. Much of the discussion encouraged
leaders from Dublin, Columbus and other places in Ohio to think about
what a successful intelligent community means and how to measure it.

Dana
McDaniel, who had been in charge of Dublin’s economic development
strategy and is now its city manager, organized and led the conference.
In the moments when people had a chance to outline their longer term
vision, he had an intriguing thought. He wants to unify and treat Ohio
as the first intelligent community that encompasses a whole state.

This
reminded me of my work on technology-based economic development in
Massachusetts a few years ago. Massachusetts’ problem was that the
Boston/Cambridge area of the state was its primary economic engine, but
that the rest of the state, especially the central region, had suffered
economically.

Several states have a similar situation with only
one truly prosperous region. New York, Illinois, Colorado and Washington
are reasonably good examples of the problem.

So we came up with a
plan that would use broadband connectivity to link the rest of
Massachusetts to the Boston area. We knew this might be fraught with
political objections from other parts of the state not wanting to lose
their identity by being considered virtual suburbs of Boston.

Instead,
we were trying to find a way to link together the whole state. This
would not only provide resources and potential financing from Boston for
those elsewhere, but just as important it could provide people in
Boston with new entrepreneurial ideas that could only flourish in areas
with a different business atmosphere.

While it certainly has
pockets of relative affluence and poverty, Ohio is actually not one of
those states with a single economic engine. Despite that – or maybe
because of that – the idea of weaving together all the communities in a
state is germinating there.

By contrast, some states that do have
the problem of a concentration of prosperity seem to be going in the
opposite direction – splitting themselves into non-cooperating regions,
thus diminishing the state’s overall impact and putting every region in a
weaker competitive position.

I’ve noted before that
communications technology today makes possible a virtual metropolis
created through the linked combination of rural areas.

Ohio’s
variation on the theme is also an interesting development to watch. It
may well position Ohio as the forerunner for economic growth for the
rest of the USA – a 21st century virtual version of the economically
dominant city-states of the European Renaissance.

image

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved
[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/132017256455/the-virtual-city-state-of-all-ohio]

Helping A City Envision Its Future

There are some interesting developments happening in Winter Park, Florida.
  Established in the late 1800s as a winter haven for the wealthy of
northern states, it is now a city of about 29,000 people in the Orlando
metroplex.  

Although it has a nice quality of life, relative
affluence, other good aspects, etc., like every city, it faces its
challenges.  What makes it interesting is how the city is responding.

image

For
many years, a significant part of the city felt that their library
needed to be replaced and brought into the new century.  This effort
came closer to reality with the creation of a library facility task force more than a year ago and, more recently, with three workshops in which hundreds of community residents participated.  

Needless
to say, this is not how the majority of new library building projects
go about planning.  It is an example of the open and collaborative
spirit of ACi Architects, the
architecture/urban design firm that the city retained, which is leading
this effort.  (This is clearly not the exercise in egotism that too many
architects practice.)

In my role as a member of the Advisory Group to the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries,
I was invited to talk at one of these workshops about how the changes
in the world and libraries provided the basis for Aspen’s report and how
that report could inform their own plans for a future library.

Since
a good library is very much a part of the fabric of its community, it
is especially interesting that the library planning effort has been
conducted in parallel with a larger “community visioning” project to provide direction for all of the city for the next 50 years.

While
no city will ever achieve 100% agreement on anything, it’s been
fascinating to watch these efforts develop with generally civil
discussion – and visible in real time online to those who couldn’t be
there.  

This picture is from one of the breakout groups during a workshop.

image

In
the case of the library workshops, part of the challenge is that the
best site for a new building is in a city park named for Martin Luther
King, Jr. and that there is also a need for what has been a civic center
(community meeting building).  So the design needed is not just for a
library building.

While this complicates things, it also
presents an opportunity to create something new which combines a new
library building and the recreational area around it – an opportunity to
create a kind of knowledge park or knowledge experience.  The library
can offer its services not only inside the building, but on it and
beyond in gazebos around the park – and a new civic forum space.

A
combination library/park/civic space is not common, but not rare
either.  Many large libraries sit in parks, most notably the New York
Public Library in Bryant Park.  But these two public amenities – the
library and the park – are not all that often integrated together.

Recently, WIRED Magazine in its design issue article, “8 Cities That Show You What the Future Will Look Like”,
featured Medellín’s Biblioteca Espana library/park that is “Combining
Libraries and Parks into Safe Spaces for All”, while serving and helping
to upgrade the impoverished neighborhood that surrounds it.

image

The
New World Symphony in Miami Beach provides another model of how a park
can be integrated with cultural events inside a building.  With a large
video wall on the outside, it is a natural place for people to sit or
even picnic while listening to great music and seeing great musicians.

image

Sometimes the park is jam-packed with listeners.

image

Building
a library in a park offers similar possibilities.  Even the always
necessary garage for a library can be turned into a set of display walls
for the projection of knowledge outside of the building – and thus
upgrading, perhaps, hiding its parking function.  For instance, pictures
and text from the city’s African-American history museum could be made
more widely available this way.

Although no two cities are
exactly the same, Winter Park is a good example of an historic, but
relatively small, city that is now striving to re-define itself as part
of a larger metropolitan area in a 21st century digital economy.  For
that reason, I’ll be reporting back on how the residents proceed to set
an example for many other places in the USA and the rest of the world.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/130060753327/helping-a-city-envision-its-future]

Not Your Typical Urban News — Part 2

As part of my summer roundup, this is the second review of unconventional news items about what’s happening in cities, states/provinces and other sub-national governments.  Last week, I wrote about urban migrations and urban work/life balance.  This week, some stories about urban technology and compassion.

Urban Technology

Many cities claim to be technology leaders, but this story in the Guardian really does stand out: “Welcome to Jun, the town that ditched bureaucracy to run on Twitter – Residents of the Spanish town use Twitter for everything from reporting crimes to booking doctor’s appointments. Is this the future of local government?”  The obelisk in the central square is decorated with a Twitter mosaic.  

The Mayor is quoted as saying:

“Twitter has created the society of the minute – very quick questions and very quick answers. We now do our paperwork on Twitter,” … “But this is an important point, because who values the work of the people at city hall? The street sweeper? The cleaner? We decided that everyone would have a Twitter account so that they could see that people value their work.”

On the negative side of technology, among all the various scare stories about cyber-attacks, here’s a counter-intuitive argument, “How to hack a city—and why we should”.  Its author, Jonathan Keane, notes:

Cities, like any complex system, are potentially susceptible to hacking. The important question is just how susceptible?

“Through smart technologies, wireless connectivity, and the burgeoning Internet of Things, cities and critical infrastructure have been getting a technological makeover in recent years. Amsterdam is exploring several open-source projects and cities like Barcelona, Spain are revamping energy grids and traffic lights. But those new initiatives open up new vulnerabilities.”

Following up on my previous blog post about where people spend their mental time, this research paper in the online scientific journal, the Public Library of Science (PLOS), was of interest — “Do Global Cities Enable Global Views? Using Twitter to Quantify the Level of Geographical Awareness of U.S. Cities”.  

The researchers concluded:

“Our findings are that: (1) the level of geographical awareness varies depending on when and where Twitter messages are posted, yet Twitter users from big cities are more aware of the names of international cities or distant US cities than users from mid-size cities; (2) Twitter users have an increased awareness of other city names far away from their home city during holiday seasons; and (3) Twitter users are more aware of nearby city names than distant city names, and more aware of big city names rather than small city names.”

Perhaps their findings weren’t too surprising, although it’s fascinating to see how Twitter data is being used.

Anyway, here’s their ranking of various cities on a global awareness index (GAI):

image

Compassion?

Finally, perhaps as a counterpoint (or a complement?) to the talk about technology in cities, Louisville, Kentucky is beginning to get noticed for its “Compassionate Cities Mission Statement”.  The City boldly states that:

“Compassion is common ground and a unifying force in our polarized world. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. Compassion is the bridge between internal practice and external change.”

They go on to identify these dimensions of compassion – “Beauty, Inclusion, Empowerment, Transparency, Universally Positive, Social Innovation, Paying it forward, Hospitality, Abundance, Awareness/Understanding, and Intention.”

image

All in all, some very interesting developments on the urban front.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/126911730407/not-your-typical-urban-news-part-2]

Not Your Typical Urban News — Part 1

As part of my summer roundup of unconventional news items on various subjects, here are some things happening in cities, states/provinces and other sub-national governments.  I’ve organized these items into four categories: urban migrations; urban work/life balance; urban technology; and compassion.  Let’s review the first two now.

Urban Migrations

Despite the continuing drumbeat about everyone moving to the downtown of cities, the actual patterns of migration are much more complex.  
This story perhaps explains some of the movement of people – “These Are the Top 20 Cities Americans Are Ditching: Soaring costs of living meant residents left New York City and its suburbs in droves”.  The story is not just about New York, of course:

“New York City, Los Angeles, Honolulu: They’re all places you would think would be popular destinations for Americans. So it might come as a surprise that these are among the cities U.S. residents are fleeing in droves. …

“Interestingly, these are also the cities with some of the highest net inflows of people from outside the country. That gives many of these cities a steadily growing population, despite the net exodus of people moving within the U.S.

“And as Americans leave, people from abroad move in to these bustling cities to fill the vacant low-skilled jobs. [And live in cramped quarters native-born residents don’t want]”

We also see a recent report from the Brookings Institution, titled the “The end of suburban white flight”.  William H. Frey points out:

“As the nation’s white population ages and stagnates, the childbearing population is increasingly made up of minorities, who are increasingly drawn to the suburbs. In fact, whites are hardly the lifeblood of suburban growth anymore. … Suburbs will continue to grow in the future, but increasingly as a result of the rapid growth of the nation’s growing young minority families.”

image

While you might expect there to be a difference in how people of different ages feel about where they live – with young people, in theory, finding cities hip – that story is also more complicated.  Dave Nyczepir reported a few weeks ago that “Wyoming Seniors Don’t Feel Much Better Off Than Younger Generations. But That’s Not Necessarily a Bad Thing.  Delaware, by comparison, boasts the biggest senior advantage in well-being, according to a new well-being index.

The news is not just about people moving from one city to another, but even moving less once they’re there.

Urban Work/Life Balance

For much of the 20th century, commuting was one of the most unpleasant aspects of living in a metropolis.  Long commutes were a major contributed to a lack of balance between work and the rest of life, in addition to adding all sorts of bad things into the air.

With that in mind, Wendell Cox wrote recently that “Working at Home: In Most Places, the Big Alternative to Cars”.

There were another couple of articles that carried this idea further.  Last week, Business Insider reported that “Startups are opening ‘co-living’ spaces, so you never have to leave home to go to work”, which was, in turn, based on a BuzzFeed report titled “Living In The Disneyland Version Of Startup Life”.  These describe several ventures in various cities and suburbs around the US that offer or will offer not only the usual co-working spaces, but co-living as well, all in one shared location.

One consequence of these trends in home working is that Iowa’s state transportation chief predicted the road system “is going to shrink”, as reported recently in a CityLab story “Iowa Makes a Bold Admission: We Need Fewer Roads”.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/126339216775/not-your-typical-urban-news-part-1]

Where’s The City? Where’s The Country?

image

I’ve written in the May 2014 issue of Urban China magazine and here before about the various ways that life in urban and rural areas is converging.

But when it comes to the economy, especially growing global trade, we often hear of great distinctions between city and countryside.  Indeed, it is often assumed that most of any country’s economy can be attributed to its cities and public policy follows that assumption.  

David Brunnen is Managing Editor of Groupe Intellex and Partner of NextGen in the UK. He has had a long and distinguished career as a leader in technology and public policy.

He has been doing some interesting research and concluded that this urban-rural divide is not as great as myth would have it.  This culminated in a report in May 2015 with the intriguing title, “Global Trade Development outwith the Metros: not beyond belief”.  He also provided something of an executive summary on his blog.

He observed that:

“Conventional wisdom says that the pursuit of global growth is surely what has led to the success of major cities…

“The notion of growth in international trade from enterprises rooted in our countryside and less-regarded towns may, at first glance, seem unlikely.   Scratch the stats however and beneath the glossy megacity headlines you can sniff the fragrance of a less-urban, more rural, renaissance.”

Brunnen points out that part of the myth about the role of cities is a very generous definition of what is a city.  As an example, Brunnen cites the work, ending last year, of the RSA City Growth Commission of the UK, whose aim was to “enable England’s major cities to drive growth”.  

“Some of these encompass far more places than are recognized by any governmental and administrative boundaries. The South Hampshire Metro area includes two cities (Southampton and Portsmouth) and the entire semi-rural conurbations on both sides of the linking M27 motorway. Their London Metro area extends west well into Hampshire, south to include Gatwick airport, east to include places on both sides of the Thames estuary and north to include Luton airport beyond Bedford.  In the debate about building airport capacity for London, it’s a wonder that Birmingham in the West Midlands is not a candidate.”

image

This is one newspaper’s view of the London Metro area five years ago.

Brunnen goes on to note:

“Not surprisingly, with these broad definitions of their City Regions, the RSA City Growth Commission suggest that Metros contribute 61% of UK economic growth.  Ask ordinary people whether or not they live in a major city and the map would be very different – in fact it would be perfectly possible to conclude that economic growth is far more evenly spread with only around 50% of growth generated within those megacity places that demand such intensive management.”

But this is not just a story about England.  There are similar situations in many other countries, including the US.

A few years ago, Wendell Cox of Demographia, an international public policy firm, wrote “America is More Small Town than We Think”.  He starts with the statement we’ve often heard:

“America has become an overwhelmingly metropolitan nation. According to the 2000 census, more than 80 percent of the nation’s population resided in one of the 350 combined metropolitan statistical areas.”

According to the census, the figure was 79.0% in 2000 and is now 80.7%.  Moreover, the official definition of urban is not limited to obvious big cities like New York City.  Some of that urban population lives in what the Census Bureau calls urban clusters, whose population is between 2,500 and 50,000.

Focusing more on governance, Cox’s argument nevertheless parallels what Brunnen has written more recently about international trade.

“America is more “small town” than we often think, particularly in how we govern ourselves. In 2000, slightly more than one-half of the nation’s population lived in jurisdictions — cities, towns, boroughs, villages and townships — with fewer than 25,000 people or in rural areas. Planners and geographers might see regions as mega-units, but in fact, they are usually composed of many small towns and a far smaller number of larger cities. Indeed, among the metropolitan areas with more than one million residents in 2000, the average sized city, town, borough, village or township had a population of little more than 20,000.”

The 2012 survey by the Census found more or less the same results.  If anything there were more governments.  Many metropolitan areas are more networks of small towns than one master urban jurisdiction.

Brunnen goes on to explain why those outside the big cities are able to participate so vigorously in global trade.

“Digital transformation is enabling business to thrive in places where employees like to live – in places where they can afford to live – in places where they can appreciate the value of community – in places where they feel more at home.

“Dig deeper still into life beyond Metros and you’ll find a diverse and complex fabric of connections and capabilities – with very different channels and enablers for international trade.

“These less-regarded places are familiar with making do without much, if any, external intervention (or interference) from their national or regional governments. ‘Just Do It’ … This inbred capacity for action plus our newfound ability to network ideas and contacts without the hassle of travel points towards a greater levelling up of opportunity.”

That story has often been drowned out by reports of resurgent cities and ever declining rural areas.  The big city governments of the world have drawn most of the attention from big corporations and governments — perhaps it is easier to sell to or deal with very big municipal organizations?

I’d suggest reading the rest of his report, for the policies — which are both innovative and pragmatic —that he proposes to encourage economic growth.  

The bottom line of all this: the sharp dividing lines between rural and urban are not really all that sharp.  That calls for a better balance across geographic areas.  A nation’s strategy for its economic future, its infrastructure investments, broadband and technology needs to reflect the real distribution of the population and the potential of all areas to contribute to growth.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/124154805794/wheres-the-city-wheres-the-country]

Collaboration vs. Competition For Economic Growth

Lots of talk about the economy focuses on how individual businesses compete.  Generalizing from the situation of individual businesses, public officials who are responsible for the overall growth of their local economy also often talk about competition.  Making their cities “competitive in the world economy” or enabling their “residents to compete" are frequent phrases you hear.  

And they worry about where they stand in the competition with other cities.

image

Even in today’s global economy, the biggest cities still envision themselves as standing alone, in competition with all other jurisdictions.

And, of course, with cash, tax and other incentives, local economic development officials will try to steal – i.e., compete – with distant or even nearby jurisdictions.

Granted that sometimes the word “competitive” is used merely to mean prosperous or good or something else positive.  But the use of the metaphor of competition can be misleading, even in those cases.

The fact that individual businesses often find themselves competing with
each other doesn’t mean that regions as a whole thrive by focusing on
competition with other regions.

Getting back to basics, an economy grows as people develop and exchange
specialized services/products and, in various ways, create new ideas and
services/products.  The better connected and more collaborative the residents of a region are with everyone else, the more likely they are to be creating more wealth and income for themselves.  This means that
overall economic growth of a region is much more about collaboration than
competition. 

The value of collaboration has begun to be heard
in some parts of the economic development profession. For example, John Jung, Chairman of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), wrote “Collaborative Innovation – the New Competitive Edge for Economic Development”.  From a conference on Global Competition and Collaboration in 2011, there was “New Building Blocks for Jobs and Economic Growth”.  The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania affirmed this idea: “We Need More Collaboration And Less Competition For Economic Growth”.

Unfortunately, most of the huge global cities have not yet seriously adopted this approach.  In contrast, an increasing number of smaller cities, towns and rural areas have come to the realization that they have a better future if they cooperate, collaborate and network.  

An interesting example is Mitchell, South Dakota, which has 15,000 people, but was among ICF’s Top 7 Most Intelligent Communities this year — among cities like Rio, New Taipei and Columbus Ohio.  They were in trouble a decade ago.  They had lost 30% of their population, especially young people, like many other small communities in the countryside.  

Mitchell turned that situation around.  They have three Internet service providers that deliver gigabit bandwidth.  They’ve seen the growth of tech companies and precision agriculture.  Their unemployment rate is 3%, with hundreds of open jobs.  Unusual for a small city, it has its own workforce development director.  

At the recent ICF Summit in Toronto, Bryan Hisel, Executive Director, Mitchell Area Development Corporation, put it simply: “entrepreneurship is our way of thinking here.”  So the leaders of Mitchell view their small size as an advantage, not a disadvantage.  That entrepreneurial culture of its people came before they had broadband.  

With that entrepreneurial spirit, you’d think that Mitchel is all about the competition.  But Hisel pointed out that all the things people elsewhere have started to talk about — especially collaboration — comes naturally to small communities.  So Mitchell has extended its service to nearby communities and even provides advice to small cities that others might see as competitors.

Perhaps the tradition of collaboration in parts of the countryside is also why there was increased interest at the summit in my proposal for a global virtual metropolis that connects small cities like Mitchell – a connection for economic success that arises from collaboration rather than competition with one another.

image

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/122336332341/collaboration-vs-competition-for-economic-growth]

Is Open Data Good Enough?

Last week, on April 16th, the Knowledge Society Forum of the Eurocities group held its Beyond Data event in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.  The members of the KSF consists out of more than 50 policy makers focused on Open Data, from Europe.  They were joined by many other open data experts and advocates.

I led off with the keynote presentation.  The theme was simple: we need to go beyond merely opening (i.e., releasing) public data and there are a variety of new technologies that will make the Open Data movement more useful to the general public.

Since I was speaking in my role as Senior Fellow of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), I drew a parallel between that work and the current status of Open Data.  I pointed out that ICF has emphasized that an “intelligent city” is much more than a “smart city” with technology controlling its infrastructure.  What makes a community intelligent is if and how it uses that technology foundation to improve the experience of living there.

Similarly, to make the open data movement relevant to citizens, we need to go beyond merely releasing public data.   Even Hackathons and the encouragement of app developers has its limits in part because developers in private companies will try to find some way to monetize their work, but not all useful public problems have profit potential.

To create this value means focusing on data of importance to people (not just what’s easy to deliver), undertaking data analytics, following up with actions that have real impact on policies and programs and especially, engaging citizen in every step of the open data initiative.

image

I pointed out how future technology trends will improve every city’s use of its data in three ways:

1. Data collection, integration and quality

2. Visualization, anywhere it is needed

3. Analytics of the data to improve public policies and programs

For example, the inclusion of social data (like sentiment analysis) and the Internet of Things can be combined with data already collected by the government to paint a much richer picture of what is going on in a city.  In addition to drones, iBeacon, visual analyzers (like Placemeter), there are now also inexpensive, often open source, sensor devices that the public can purchase and use for more data collection.

Of course, all this data needs a different kind of management than businesses have used in the past.  So I pointed out NoSQL database management systems and Dat for real time data flow.  Some of the most interesting analytics is based on the merger of data from multiple sources, which poses additional difficulties that are beginning to be overcome through linked data and the new geospatial extension of the semantic web, GeoSPARQL.

If this data – and the results of its analysis – are to be useful, especially in real time, then data visualization needs to be everywhere.   That includes using augmented reality and even projecting results on surfaces, much like TransitScreen does.

And if all this data is to be useful, it must be analyzed so I discussed the key role of predictive analytics in going beyond merely releasing data.  But I emphasized the way that residents of a city can help in this task and cited the many people already involved in Zooniverse.  There are even tools to help people overcome their statistical immaturity, as you can see on Public Health Ontario.

Finally, the data can also be used by people to help envision – or re-envision – their cities through tools like Betaville.

Public officials have to go beyond merely congratulating themselves on being transparent by releasing data.  They need to take advantage of these technological developments and shift their focus to making the data useful to their residents – all in the overriding goal of improving the quality of life for their residents.  

image

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/117084058588/is-open-data-good-enough]

Six Lessons For Mayors – Part 2

[As a reminder from last week, I’ve repeated the introductory paragraphs, but continue on from lesson 4.]

Mayors, governors and other local government leaders are being inundated by all sorts of “experts” telling them how to run a smart city.  Often, the ulterior commercial motivation of these messages is not even well hidden.

Fortunately, in recent years, an objective and disciplined set of academic researchers have stepped up their focus on these questions. 

The Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at Albany has worked with government officials all over the world and studied their efforts to build smarter cities and use technology intelligently.  As recently designated Government Fellow at CTG, I have taken a look at some of their past research and work.

image

Here are the last three of six lessons, which stand out to me.  (By the way, it’s worth noting that these also apply in the private sector, although that’s not what CTG studied.  Where it ways government, think company, and where it says citizen, think customer.)

4. Government Staff Can Be Supplemented

Lesson #4 is that cities with successful smart city services did not do this all within their own agencies.

At its simplest, CTG also saw examples where private sector partners in a city who have deep experience operating call centers can be helpful in training government staff for this kind of work.  Volunteer neighborhood liaisons were also used to extend the reach of 311 and related services.

At its simplest, CTG describes examples where private sector partners in a city who have deep experience operating call centers can be helpful in training government staff for this kind of work.  Volunteer neighborhood liaisons were also used to extend the reach of 311 and related services.   Many times governments feel that they must take on all the aspects of an initiative, when many times there are private and non-profit organizations looking to play a role.

5. The Smart City Involves More Than City Government

From the citizens’ viewpoint, smart government services may require sharing data among different government entities.  As difficult as it is to share data within a single government, it gets even more complicated to share between agencies of different governments.  Understanding this complexity is critical to successful IT efforts.

As CTG reports:

“Expecting a great variety of benefits, governments around the world have initiated an increasing number of cross-boundary information sharing (CBIS) initiatives. Collaborating and sharing information in metropolitan areas is different from sharing within organizational hierarchies. Normally, government agencies in metropolitan areas are not subordinated to a single entity and their willingness to collaborate and share information is mainly motivated by common needs and interests.”

“Network organizations are an alternative to hierarchies because they are based on relationships, distributed knowledge, mutual dependency, and norms of reciprocity…  Networks in fact can be an alternative to traditional bureaucratic and hierarchical solutions and e-government information integration can be a good example of that.”

Lesson #5 is that a mayor may succeed faster by facilitating these informal networks of relationships, rather than going through the arduous process of imposing cooperation through legislation and complex legal arrangements.

6. The Single Most Important Player Is The Mayor

CTG’s research all over the world highlights this single most important Lesson #6: the most critical role in the whole smart city ecosystem is that of the mayor, who must provide consistent and visible leadership for a smart city across all agencies under his/her control and those his city interacts with.

CTG observed:

“despite important challenges, information integration initiatives can be implemented with relatively good results if there is enough political support from top government executives. … This work offers insights on how the support of the mayor can significantly influence the implementation of an information integration strategy in at least three different ways: (1) the creation of an adequate institutional framework, (2) the alignment of diverse political interests within the city administration, and (3) the increase of financial resources.” 

“The executive support and political champions help resolve interdepartmental conflicts.”

As with all knowledge, these lessons may seem obvious once presented – but not so predictable before they are presented.  Indeed, it is also clear from the research that not all of these lessons have been heeded in the rush to the smart city movement and the result has been much less than mayors have hoped for.

image

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/101845371086/six-lessons-for-mayors-part-2]

Six Lessons For Mayors – Part 1

Mayors, governors and other local government leaders are being inundated by all sorts of “experts” telling them how to run a smart city.  Often, the ulterior commercial motivation of these messages is not even well hidden.

Fortunately, in recent years, an objective and disciplined set of academic researchers have stepped up their focus on these questions. 

The Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at Albany has worked with government officials all over the world and studied their efforts to build smarter cities and use technology intelligently.  As recently designated Government Fellow at CTG, I have taken a look at some of their past research and work.

image

Here are the first three of six lessons, which stand out to me.  (By the way, it’s worth noting that these also apply in the private sector, although that’s not what CTG studied.  Where it ways government, think company, and where it says citizen, think customer.)

1. Systems That Can Share Will Enhance Citizen Service

CTG worked with and studied cities that implemented 311 systems and later rolled out larger service management systems.  While the cost of handling 311 telephone calls, among other reasons, have diminished the number of new telephone-only installations, the 311 experience has provided lessons on the obstacles to providing better service to a city’s residents.

311 systems and other single points of entry for citizen service, even the web, make glaringly clear the lack of integration across government agencies.  Complex technology that is not interoperable only adds to the traditional human problem of bureaucratic silos. 

So Lesson #1 is that the city needs to make sure its computer systems are interoperable – or at least open to sharing data.  Integrating the back end is just as important as providing a citizen interface on the front end.

2. It’s Not Merely About Technology

Having said that, CTG’s research makes Lesson #2 clear: any mayor, who thinks that simply building a system for citizen services is sufficient, will not likely succeed in his/her larger goals of creating a smart city.

As one of their reports states:

“A smart city is not only a technological concept but a socioeconomic development one.  Technology is obviously a necessary condition for a smart city, but citizens’ understanding of the concept is about the development of urban society for the better quality of life. The adoption of up-to-date technologies per se does not guarantee the success of smart city initiatives. Rather, innovation in management style and policy direction makes a city more livable. Success of smart city projects is not determined by technology or technical capital. Success is dependent on leadership and interorganizational coordination. Technology itself does not make any contribution to innovation.”

3. Government Staff Overcome Technological Limitations

Lesson #3 is that, in various ways, government staff (people) can overcome the lack of integration of citizen-facing systems in government.

The 311 experience has illuminated the weaknesses of legacy systems and the frequent situation where the 311 software used by operators is not really connected to the legacy systems that departments use to manage the services they deliver to the public.  So 311 becomes a cover for the disorganization behind the scenes.  In such cases, CTG has found that well trained, qualified human agents can fill the gaps and give the citizen the kind of integrated service which is expected.

[TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK] …

image

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/101256317797/six-lessons-for-mayors-part-1]

The Angst Of Gig Cities?

Among some similar reports elsewhere, the New York Times published a story earlier this month with the title “Two Cities With Blazing Internet Speed Search for a Killer App”.  The sub-headline explained that:

“Both Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., have Google Fiber, a high-speed fiber-optic network, and are having a hard time figuring out what to do with so much power.”

image

Considering the woe and anxiety of the people that the reporter interviewed in these two cities, you might call this the angst of the gig cities.   I’m not normally critical in these blog posts, but for those of us without gigabit connections to the world, this angst doesn’t generate much sympathy and makes us wonder about the thought process of some folks.

Let’s start with the headline that bemoans the fact that there is no single killer app yet to justify the gigabit bandwidth, but that they are still looking for one.  Back in the days when PCs were first introduced, supposedly the spreadsheet was the killer app that sold those computers.  And graphics was the “killer app” that sold the Mac originally.

But I’m not sure there is any single killer app for a fundamental technology like communications.  Was there one thing that drove increased phone usage 50 years ago?  Was there only one “app” that drove people to the web more recently?

The story also had this observation:

“[The] managing director of the KC Digital Drive, a nonprofit that is trying to figure out new ways to use Google Fiber, said people were expecting too much.  So instead of something otherworldly, [he] said the more likely outcome would be souped-up versions of things that already existed.”

How sad.  To use an analogy, even though they’re driving high-powered new cars, they’re talking and thinking “horseless carriage”, not sports car.

I can’t believe the communities that are complaining they don’t know what to do with gig lack imagination, but that’s the way it comes across in this article.   Surely there are creative people in Kansas City – not just software developers – and they ought to be challenged to come up with many ways to wow the rest of the residents.

The article goes into a bit of an aside about the various ways cities have deployed broadband – Google Fiber, conventional telecommunications providers and home grown.  I haven’t seen enough research about these Google Fiber cities or other cities that have accomplished a similar build-out by themselves. 

Perhaps, though, the problem of not knowing what to do with gigabit connections is greater in places where the community didn’t have to organize itself as much in order to get that bandwidth.  By contrast, cities, like Chattanooga, which had to work harder to build out its own network perhaps have deeper cultures of innovation and entrepreneurship – which is why they supported their own gigabit build-out to begin with.

There’s also a big gap between a gigabit connection and the more typical few megabits that most Americans seem to witness much of the time.  I suppose that’s also part of the gig cities’ problem. Perhaps they are feeling lonely.  It’s a bit like being the only person in town with a phone in the old days.

Maybe the new gig cities would find more things to do if they’d only begin to connect to other Americans at even a tenth of that speed. 

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/98304192579/the-angst-of-gig-cities]

Urban Farming?

Urban farming would seem to be an oxymoron.  Yet, the idea of bringing farming into the heart of urban regions is – pun intended – cropping up everywhere. 

(In this post, I touch upon on a small subset of recent activities on the urban farming front.  If you’re interested, you’ll find lots more urban farming documented on the Internet.)

A couple of weeks ago, a New York Times article “Farm-to-Table Living Takes Root” reported on Agritopia, a neighborhood in Phoenix that focuses on farming. There have been as well reports of other farm-focused urban neighborhoods around the country. 

Lack of available land at street level is also no limitation.  Rooftop farms are being added to the tops of buildings in many cities.  But why just stop with the tops of buildings?

Columbia University Professor Dickson Despommier has been the modern prophet of the vertical farming concept that encourages building agricultural skyscrapers in large cities.  One example – the largest in the USA – is FarmedHere, which last month opened an indoor vertical farm in Chicago.

In a much bolder vision last year, the architect Vincent Callebaut proposed a Dragonfly shaped vertical farm for the south end of New York City’s Roosevelt Island.  (This is, alas, the same location of the future high tech, entrepreneurial campus of Cornell University and Technion Israeli Institute of Technology that former Mayor Bloomberg commissioned to emulate Silicon Valley.  Silicon Valley, in turn, was once filled with orchards, not tech companies.)

image

If a real island, like Roosevelt, is not available within the city’s borders, then the answer is to build an artificial island.  The folks at Blue Revolution Hawaii are hoping to do just that in Honolulu and follow in the early footsteps of other cities around the world with farming on artificial islands – see the article “Floating Farms” in this month’s Modern Farmer magazine.

This may seem like some new trend and, in some ways, it is – as it reflects the ways that the Internet is opening up possibilities for people. 

But it is not completely new.  My favorite examples come from New York City, yes, New York City.  In the Queens section, John Bowne High School with a special focus on agriculture – and the program has been around since the end of World War I, originally in the old Newtown High School.  Even in Manhattan, George Washington High School in the north end of the island has a chapter of the Future Farmers of America. 

So the graduates of these schools won’t have to leave New York City to become farmers, even in the densest urban area in America.

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/80777085555/urban-farming]

Who & What Is Tech For In The Inner City?

The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) was created twenty years ago by the famed strategy professor at Harvard Business School Professor, Michael Porter.  ICIC focuses on economic development strategies for inner cities.  Their stated mission is “to drive economic prosperity in America’s inner cities through private sector investment to create jobs, income and wealth for local residents”.  

As part of their What Works For Cities series, last Thursday, ICIC held a webinar for about two hundred attendees on “How inner cities can increase the impact of technology clusters”.  On behalf of the Intelligent Community Forum, I was one of the invited speakers.

ICIC wanted to address three questions:

  1. What can city governments do to create technology-based economies in inner cities?
  2. How can cities ensure that inner city residents have access to technology so that they are prepared, skilled, and able to participate in a tech-based economy?
  3. What is a local governments’ role in building the capacity of innovative businesses so that they create jobs for inner city residents? What policies have worked?

So I took this as an opportunity to discuss technology-based economic growth from a global perspective, based on my own experience and that of the hundreds of cities and regions who have been identified as intelligent communities by the Intelligent Community Forum over the last fifteen years. My focus was especially on innovation and inclusion.

There were two underlying themes in my presentation.

First, technology-based economic development should not mean solely creating software and other tech companies.  Partly that is because good social policy doesn’t just replace current poor inner city residents with newcomers who are programmers and web designers. 

Helping existing residents learn programming is a key part of the story that the two New York City public officials presented during the webinar.  NYC’s focus is to fulfill the demand for programmers, web designers and engineers from among those who have been unemployed – recognizing that in the tech industry, aptitude is more important than degrees, an important consideration for inner city residents.

I’d add that there are a variety of places and ways that people can learn programming from the Internet, including the well-known Code Academy.   In his recent post “Can Tech Help Inner City Poverty?” Michael Mandel reviewed the generally positive results of these programs.

But the world needs more than just programmers, as was well discussed in a recent NPR report, “Computers Are The Future, But Does Everyone Need To Code?”.

A successful technology-based economy strategy for inner city residents should also help non-programmers and low-tech businesses benefit from being connected digitally to the greater opportunities of the global economy.

Second, in this century with its digital, knowledge-based global economy, innovation is the key to competitive success.  I described several ways that cities can be an example of innovation and facilitate innovation among their residents, including, or perhaps especially, among inner city residents.

While the full presentation will be on the ICIC website later, here is a summary of the various aspects of the strategy that I presented.  The 21st century city:

  • connects residents to the global economic opportunities
  • connects residents to open innovation
  • provides a platform for lifelong learning for residents
  • has a culture of innovation
  • creates places that inspire residents to innovate

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/75049511867/who-what-is-tech-for-in-the-inner-city]

Has The Internet Enabled Local Government To Replace Nation-States?

Rutgers University Political Science Professor Benjamin Barber has written a provocative book, “If Mayors Ruled The World”, which is scheduled to be available this November.  

His thesis, as described on his website, is that:

The issues dominating our headlines – global warming, terrorism, economic inequality – do not stop at national borders. Nonetheless, our chief means of addressing them remains the nation-state, a 17th century framework constitutionally unable, and temperamentally unwilling, to collaborate across frontiers in order to solve common problems. What is to be done? Let cities, through a global “Parliament of Mayors,” run the world. …

[Cities] are unburdened with the issues of borders and sovereignty which hobble the capacity of nation-states to work with one another.

… regardless of city size or political affiliation, local executives exhibit a non-partisan and pragmatic style of governance that is lacking in national and international halls of power. … Through these qualities of leadership mayors have retained the trust of citizens in their office, helped cities become beacons of good governance, and spearheaded city-to-city collaborations in order to better address shared problems.

For more, you can see him present his ideas at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BJgmV7GRVc and http://www.booktv.org/Program/14242/If+Mayors+Ruled+the+World.aspx .

Indeed, there is no doubt that mayors can collaborate in ways that were impossible before the Internet.  Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and former Policy Director for the US State Department (arguably one of the most prominent institutions which defends the concept of the nation-state), wrote “A New World Order” in 2004.  That book describes all kinds of examples of cross-border collaboration in everything from judicial opinions to environmental action.

Others, from former Vice President Al Gore to Professor Joseph Nye, have also pointed out the various ways that the power of the nation-state seems to be in relative decline.

Since the global communications network makes possible connections even among local areas that are not geographically near, there is also the potential for networks of local governments or regions to develop without regard to national boundaries – virtual metroplexes. For example, it may be that two cities separated by thousands of miles – for example New York and London – have more connections and more in common than nearer cities like New York and Syracuse. The global communications network now makes it possible for these two distant metropolises to coalesce as one.

The ability of distant urban areas to work closely together raises questions of governance, even governance issues that cross national borders. However, much of this activity is occurring below “the radar” of nation-states; they are unaware and cannot keep track of all such interactions. 

I think that Barber’s proposal is too ambitious for cities, given all the problems mayors face doing their jobs now.  It is worth noting that, within the limits of time, mayors do take global positions — such as the more than a thousand mayors who have agreed to a climate change pledge — but that’s not the same thing as running the world.

At the same time, Barber’s view is also a bit old fashioned by viewing cities in the image of the traditional nation-state.  It is curious that he calls for a form of governance – a parliament – associated with the mature nation-state, rather than looking to newer alternatives for collaboration which would run into fewer legal and institutional obstacles.  I would expect a more flexible collaborative approach, a different way of doing public service if the world Barber envisions comes about.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that mayors can collaborate in ways that were impossible before the Internet.  It’s encouraging to see that this topic will be getting more exposure and I look forward to seeing the reaction when the book comes out.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/62241246607/has-the-internet-enabled-local-government-to-replace]

US Mayors Pump It Up?

Along with Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport, Connecticut, I made a fun presentation at the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors.  More about that, but some background first.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been working with the Council on Metro Economies and The New American City of the US Conference of Mayors on a future-oriented, 21st century strategy for economic growth.   

This project recognizes the increasing proportion of Americans who will earn their living by providing digital products and services, on the one hand, and the increasing availability of high quality, casual video communications and collaboration on the other hand.  

Together these lead to some significant changes in the character of the economy and of cities.  (See my presentation at the ICF Institute for more about these changes –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlNxLmIQ4O8.)

In the early stages, the strategy focused on ideas for mayors as they respond to these changes on behalf of the residents of their cities.  More recently, with USCM staff, we’ve started to create pilot demonstrations of these ideas.

Recognizing that these changes in the economy enable many people to make a living almost anywhere, one part of the strategy is to provide a high quality of life, a “WOW” experience, that’s unique to a city so people come and stay there.  The by-product of this experience is that it can also inspire residents to innovate – a key factor in economic growth.  

With the Internet everywhere across a city, blending the physical and the virtual can create new WOW experiences.  The presentation showed various examples that included displays and projections on walls and other physical structures, on a controlled mist from Long Island Sound, etc.

Bridgeport is a good example of a city that can benefit from this – an older industrial city of 150,000 that is cut by an interstate highway.  It has locations and structures that wouldn’t normally be considered attractive, but offer great potential in a blended virtual/physical world.

Consider this smokestack that is the first sign of Bridgeport that drivers see on Interstate 95.  

image

Why not make it a video screen? 

image

This blending of the virtual and physical makes it possible to show what’s happening in real-time in another part of town or from another time in the same place.

Consider the multi-modal transit center that people see when they arrive by train, bus, ferry or even a car.  It certainly could be more welcoming.

image

Each summer, there is a big music festival in Bridgeport – the Gathering of the Vibes.  My last example showed how this wall could be transformed so it presents one of the star acts, Elvis Costello.  

image

The song he’s singing, “Pump It Up”, is also the message to mayors and what they can now do with what used to be dreary places.

I left the mayors with this final thought: this is not primarily about something artistic or a way of getting advertising or even promoting big events.  In a fundamental way, this is how cities need to think about urban design in this century.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/53929055163/us-mayors-pump-it-up]

Art In The City Or The City As Art (Part 2)?

Last week, I blogged about the blending of physical and virtual space to create new places and experiences in a city.  This way the city itself is the art form, not merely the backdrop for some unrelated, unintegrated work of art.

There are a few examples of this blending of the virtual and physical already happening in various ways.  

  • In Aarhus, Denmark, the public library opened a public space for residents to use their mobile devices and create a collective work of digital art that could then be “posted” on the walls.
  • In Times Square in New York in 2010, the retail outlet Forever 21 put a fashion model on a display screen.  She took pictures of the real crowd below and then showed it on the screen.  (See www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtLX52z4kPU)  The story goes that it was so successful, the police asked the company to shift the angle of the screen because drivers were stopping to look.
  • Just as in a connected world, we say that “work goes to people, instead of people going to work,” so too have retailers started to bring the store to where people are instead of trying to entice them into stores.  As an example, PeaPod converted the walls of the Chicago Transit Authority into virtual supermarket display cases where people can use their smart phones to buy food that will be delivered to their homes later.  
  • In Australia, partly as a public health measure to encourage walking instead of escalator use, the city painted some stairs to look like piano keys and then linked that up to computer generated sounds.  As people walked on the stairs, they were playing music.  Another “Wow” experience that is not expected by residents and visitors – http://www.chordstrike.com/2009/11/piano-stairs.html
  • Mercedes Benz has demonstrated “transparent walls”, on which is projected what is happening on a side street a car is approaching.  That way a driver can see something coming before it would normally be visible.  The safety benefits are pretty obvious.  For a video, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LqCMv3Nz4ZQ#

Of course, each city is different so there is still a large element of creativity in developing an appealing and appropriate blend of the virtual and physical.  That will be a challenge for artists, technologists, planners and even local government leaders.  It will be lots of fun to see how this all develops.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/49933187503/art-in-the-city-or-the-city-as-art-part-2]

Art In The City Or The City As Art (Part 1)?

New forms of lighting, optics, connectivity and computer technologies have enabled artists to use the outdoors and other unusual settings as a new kind of canvass for their artwork.  Sometimes called projection mapping, here are some of the more interesting examples:

These are wonderful works of art.  BUT – all of these are expressions of art in a city, merely using the cityscape as the surface upon which an unrelated piece of artwork is laid.  These are not fully integrated with the city and don’t transform the city itself into art.

When I’ve spoken to audiences about the blending of physical and virtual space, I’ve had something much more ambitious in mind – the creation of new destinations and new experiences in a city which are attractive because they combine what’s there with virtual capabilities.  

This blending also provides residents and visitors a way of stretching and replicating time and space in the city.  Imagine showing in a location at night what it looked like in the morning or six months ago.  Imagine showing what is happening in another part of the city – particularly useful if you want those embarking trains or planes to learn of an event taking place elsewhere. 

Think about augmenting reality not through a smartphone camera or fancy glasses, but by augmenting reality in its place.  I’m certainly not alone is seeing the potential.  In his article “Augmented Reality Will Make Boring Cities Beautiful” [http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/cities/video-how-8216augmented-reality-will-make-boring-cities-beautiful/691] Christopher Mims notes that: 

“Once augmented reality is widespread, the difference between a great and a mediocre city won’t just be its built environment. To some extent, it will also be the degree to which that environment is a suitable tapestry for the creatives who will paint it with their augmented reality brush. Digital artists who learn to re-appropriate the city with the most innovative augmented reality add-ons won’t just bring themselves fame and fortune — they’ll also be attracting others to the places they love.”

Next week I’ll share a few examples of what has already been started.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/49379484414/art-in-the-city-or-the-city-as-art-part-1]