The War Is Over! Big Cities Win

In Tuesday’s New York Times, there was an article explaining “Why Big Cities Thrive, and Smaller Ones Are Being Left Behind” as the headline put it. The article was filled sad stories about small cities and small metro areas facing “dismal performance”. It was said that, in the face of a global technological revolution, these cities “may be too small to [adapt and to] survive.”

The accompanying graphic is a vivid demonstration of the point that the economic war is over and big cities have won – with their huge urban concentrations of people. And so, the author of the article ends it with advice that

“the future for the residents of small-city America looks dim. Perhaps the best policy would be to help them move to a big city nearby.”

There is no doubt that the graphic image is correct and that many small cities, towns and rural areas have suffered economically over the last couple of decades.

How could this have happened when the Internet and technology was supposed, instead, to “kill distance” and diminish the importance of big cities?  

I have argued that we are not really in the Internet age, despite – or because – of all the chatting, social media and email. A virtual version of the kind of casual conversations and interactions that happen in cities is still missing. The way Internet technology is used today limits our interactions. But that situation won’t last forever as more people, including those outside of the big metro areas, finally do get and use ubiquitous, easy and transparent videoconferencing.

This reminds me of my experience with the impact of the web on newspapers. When the web was first becoming popular, I was with a company working on software that was intended in part to help newspapers make the transition to a digital world. Although we weren’t successful in getting most newspapers to respond to the challenge (and opportunity), I was witness to the online discussions of newspaper employees as they struggled with the web phenomenon.

Through most of the 1990s, they were mildly concerned about the threat. When the dot-com bubble burst during 2000, these folks reassured each other that this web thing was indeed a passing fad. Shortly after that widespread agreement that the predictions of the impact of technology were mistaken, newspapers starting to decline and shed staff.

Bill Gates has provided another way of looking at this:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

A hint that there is more to the story could be found the same day in another New York Times article by their long-time technology reporter Steve Lohr. The story, “Start-Up Bets on Tech Talent Pipeline From Africa”, reported about a pool of tech talent in Lagos, Nairobi and Kampala. While Lagos and Nairobi are fairly large cities, none of these three cities is what people normally think about when talking about the metro areas that are the flagships of the global economy. They are not New York or London or San Francisco.

Yesterday (10/11/17) another NY Times story, “As ‘Unicorns’ Emerge, Utah Makes a Case for Tech Entrepreneurs”, appeared about the

“thriving technology hub in the roughly 80-mile swath from Provo to Ogden, with Salt Lake City in between. The region has given rise to at least five companies valued at more than $1 billion.”

Among those featured was Domo, an analytics company based in American Fork, Utah.

At ICF, we’ve seen a number of small cities and other non-metro areas that have flourished by taking advantage of the Internet and using broadband to connect their residents to anyone in the world.

While the wealth and advantages large metros have inherited from the industrial age are still being reflected in their role today, as we continue into this century, the intelligent use of technology to build thriving communities and quality of life will help cities of any size. So perhaps the obituary of small towns is not just premature, but misleading.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

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
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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”.)

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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.”

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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.

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© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

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

Visioning For A Library And Its Community

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Taking its work on the future of public libraries
to the next stage, the Aspen Institute has selected Winter Park,
Florida as one of five locations with which it will work closely to
develop a useful set of models for all kinds of public libraries.

As
part of that effort, Aspen and the library and City of Winter Park held
a day-long community dialogue and visioning meeting last Thursday.  (I
was asked to participate because I previously worked with Winter Park and I’m one of the small group of advisors to the Aspen Institute.)

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I
won’t use this space to repeat what I’ve said about libraries already,
but instead this is about the Aspen process of engaging citizens to
figure out the future of their communities.  What I’ll report below may
seem simple or even obvious, but it’s clear that the Aspen Institute has
been conducting these dialogues for a long time and has a sense of what
works.

Many of us, including myself, have seen enough such sessions accomplish little.  We appreciate it when this works well.

It
also helps that Winter Park is a city with engaged residents.  For a
city of about 26,000 people, the turnout of several dozen people for an
introductory session on Wednesday night was extraordinary, especially
considering that it was not well publicized.

So too was the
involvement all day Thursday of the Mayor, the City Manager, and another
member of the City Commission, in addition to the President of Full
Sail University, a leaders of Rollins College and Valencia Community
College.  Of course, various other local leaders who have been much
involved with the library joined them.

Thursday’s roundtable began
with a discussion of two topics:  Library Alignment With Community
Goals and The Library As A Platform For Community Development.  This
framing is all important, since the focus is on the community, not about
the library as a solitary building.

Sometimes the discussion was
all over the field.  Like the blind men and the elephant, this is
necessary for everyone to hear not so much what each thinks of the
overall thing (the library or even the community) but how it looks from
their particular perspective.  Unlike the story of the blind men, this
can work as long people then put together their perspectives to achieve
an understanding of the whole picture.

The pressure from a number
of local futurists also had an impact on the nature of the dialogue –
more on how do we keep up with a changing world, instead of the
too-frequent complaint I’ve heard elsewhere that “we don’t understand
these changes”.  I was pleased to hear local residents even talking
about the use of artificial intelligence in libraries, something that
I’ve blogged about but not heard even from many professionals.  This is a
good indication that, at least in this community, the library won’t be
overtaken by onrushing technological changes, including one that was made public as we were meeting.

Rather than just continue a general discussion, Aspen’s Amy Garmer then presented 15 possible action steps.
She asked each person to vote on those steps (singly or combined) they
thought most important so that the group could generate a list of three
actions they would start to implement.

This voting and the
discussion around it also had the effect getting people’s commitment to
their choices and thus acceptance of responsibility for follow-up
tasks.  And, indeed, as the day ended, several people stepped up to take
on the tasks.

So, in a day and an evening, there was a sequence
of futuristic visioning, discussion of community priorities and
commitments to substantive action steps.

Simple, yet not very often successfully done.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved 

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/145909807742/visioning-for-a-library-and-its-community]

Older Suburban Cities: The New Startups Of Metro Regions

Last week, I was in Ridgeland, Mississippi, a suburban city of 25,000 outside of Jackson.  It is the second city in the state to adopt high speed broadband Internet in response to the challenge by the regional communications company, C-Spire.  For most of the day, I met with city aldermen and other public officials to discuss the various ways that broadband provides the foundation for economic development, learning, healthcare, even quality of life and tourism.

C-Spire also has its headquarters in Ridgeland, so you’d think that adoption would be widespread.  But the pattern of adoption in Ridgeland is similar to elsewhere.  It often is picked up by the more educated and affluent section of the town and slower to be adopted by others – including those who would most benefit from expanded opportunity.

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It was very encouraging to see the public officials focusing on broadband.  With the local public leadership strongly behind this effort to position Ridgeland for the 21st century, the likelihood that all will benefit will be much greater than in other cities I’ve seen where the local leaders do not seem to understand.

Public officials are critical in creating a 21st century intelligent community because they have the necessary political skills.  While nothing is ever easy in public affairs, it is relatively easier to build a highway – the organizations and companies, who are the usual participants in civic discussions, grew up with older infrastructure investments.  

Broadband-based community building is new and may deliver benefits after the leaders of those organizations have retired.

So, public leaders need to widen the circle of people involved in envisioning the future of their communities.  For an intelligent community initiative to succeed, it needs to include the newer, growing parts of the economy – entrepreneurs, young people, tech businesses, artists, freelancers of all kinds, as well as the many others whose earnings depend on their knowledge.  

Ridgeland also fits into another pattern I’ve observed over the last couple of years – in cities as far apart and different culturally from it as New Westminster in British Columbia, Canada and Dublin, Ohio and Yonkers, New York.

Older, small cities in what is now a suburban ring are often the places where the most interesting adoption of technology is occurring.  These cities are the most far-sighted and devote the most effort to planning their futures.

And it’s not just a matter of having money.  Some are relatively affluent, but these cities are generally in the mid-range of income or even below the mid-range.
Much more than other places, they act as if they are in startup mode – and their leaders are, in a sense, public entrepreneurs.  Of course, like startups in the private sector, a few will fail in their efforts, many will achieve reasonable, if not spectacular, success and a few will achieve legendary status.

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By contrast, big cities often seem to sit on their laurels.  Besides, with big established interests and big bureaucracies, they are very hard to change and to achieve dramatic transformation.

Unfortunately, not all small cities are jumping on the opportunities presented by a globally connected world.  Too many smaller cities have suffered too long from the loss of their industrial base and population.  They have yet to overcome their despondency about the present, never mind their fear of a worse future.  

They should look to these similar-sized “startup” cities as examples to emulate.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved
[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/134727161698/older-suburban-cities-the-new-startups-of-metro]

8 Trends Create 8 Opportunities For 21st Century Libraries

The fifth annual worldwide virtual conference about the future of libraries in the digital age, Library 2.0, is being held today.  I just completed my keynote presentation.

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Too often, discussions about libraries focus on how technological and economic trends are assaulting them.

The
warnings have been around for some time. Twenty years ago at the
General Conference of the International Federation of Library
Associations, Chris Batt, then Director of the Croydon UK Library, gave a
speech on the “The library of the future”.  He said:

“What are
the implications of all for this for the future of public libraries? …
The answer is that while we cannot be certain about the future for our
services, we can and should be developing a vision which encompasses and
enriches the potential of the Internet. If we do not do that then
others will; and they will do it less well.”

So I followed the advice attributed to President Lincoln,

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

And
I chose instead to focus on the positive and the pro-active in my
keynote to the conference. I aimed to encourage the audience to push the
envelope, going beyond the constraints in their thinking about the role
of the library.

Its title tells the story: “How The Future
Requires Us To Re-envision Libraries: Trends In Technology, Society, The
Economy And Government Provide New Opportunities For Libraries”.

The
theme was that librarians should not just wait and see how to respond
to this century’s trends, but instead seize the opportunities these
trends open up and provide leadership to define the future of libraries
and society in our knowledge-based economy.

Here then are the eight trends I discussed and how each opens up another opportunity for library leadership in this century:

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If you’d like to see the presentation, it’s at https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/recording/playback/link/table/dropin?sid=2008350&suid=D.CC1B958CD5B8C600676595BA71FF55

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© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved
[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/131572189014/8-trends-create-8-opportunities-for-21st-century]

Responses To The Revolution We’re Living Through?

I was recently reading Simon Winchester’s book, “The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible” which was published last year.  It’s an interesting exploration of important parts of American history that have gotten lost in the standard renditions or even the standard counter-renditions.

He spends a bit of time on New Harmony, Indiana, Robert Owen’s failed utopian experiment because its establishment enabled the growth of geology and geological exploration in the US, which was an important part of his story.

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But the description of New Harmony raised a question in my mind.  For those of us who have studied even a basic history of the industrial revolution, we’re aware of various reactions over more than two hundred years. 

Just for a few examples … There were the Luddites who tried to stop it.  There were the utopian communities, like New Harmony, which hoped to offer an alternative to the way industrialization was occurring – sometimes even using industrial tools, but in new forms of society.  Along with that, the Romantic Movement in the arts and the Arts and Crafts movement in the US were a kind of a reaction to industrialization. 

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The modern corporation was invented in response to the need to somehow manage and then build the industrial revolution’s manufacturing plants.

Marx, of course, developed his critique of capitalism which was the predominant form of economic organization that supported and was supported by the industrial revolution.  Later still, governments started to enact various laws to improve labor conditions, reduce monopolies, and provide for the more even distribution of the wealth created by the industrial revolution.

We’ve learned to understand these reactions, see them in context and know which failed and which succeeded.  That’s easy with the benefit of hindsight.

Although some parts of the world are still in an industrial transition, as I’ve written in various posts, the more economically advanced societies are now going through a transformation as great as the industrial revolution.  We are at the beginning of developing and emerging into a post-industrial society, a knowledge economy, a sharing economy, a digital economy, or something we haven’t coined a name for yet.

So here’s my first question: what responses and reactions to this new economy are we seeing now?

Thinking about the longer term:

  • Which responses will flame out the way New Harmony did? But what residual benefits will such short-lived responses leave for the rest of this century?
  • What new laws do we need and really expect to see?  Or even new forms of governance?
  • What new business arrangements do we really expect to see? Will we need to invent something as new in the same way corporations were invented?

Trying to look out over many decades into the future as this new economy develops, I only have some inklings and guesses – but no answers.  What are your guesses or boldly stated answers?

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/99484923968/responses-to-the-revolution-were-living-through]

Beyond The Traditional Office Network

There have been several recent articles that demonstrate how the data network has escaped the confines of data centers and office buildings.  When people talk about the Internet of Things, it is really about all of the various connected devices that don’t fit into the traditional mode of a personal computer or equivalent (like a smart phone).

Earlier this month, there was a story about how “Ford investigates creating a mobile data network using the cars themselves” at 

http://connectedplanetonline.com/3g4g/news/ford-investigates-creating-mobile-data-network-using-cars-themselves-0810/ 

With every car being a node on a moving network, there are endless possibilities for new applications.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an Associated Press report about a “Tattoo-like patch breakthrough in patient monitoring” (http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/medical/story/2011/08/Tattoo-like-patch-to-breakthrough-in-patient-monitoring/49944506/1).  The mission of the researchers at University of Illinois is “really to blur the distinction between electronics and biological tissue”.  The little bandaid-like patch contains an antenna so its data can be transmitted to the network.

In “Computers That You Can Wear” (http://www.pcworld.com/article/237238/computers_that_you_can_wear.html), David Daw writes about wearable computers – which are, of course, on the network.  He features the Looxcie camera, Jawbone and Nike+ sensor.  There was a New York Times story on Looxcie last year at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/business/07novel.html

Then there is the work by Dartmouth Professor Andrew T. Campbell’s Mobile Sensing Group, which focuses on the use of mobile phones for various kinds of sensing.  It will read your eye expressions and eventually read your mind.  For more information, go to http://sensorlab.cs.dartmouth.edu/  and http://sensorlab.cs.dartmouth.edu/publications.html

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

{http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/10479308522/beyond-the-traditional-office-network}



The Misalignment Between The Economic Success of Local Government and Their Residents

As you can see from some of the other posts here, at the request of the US Conference of Mayors, I’ve been focusing on an economic development strategy that will work in the future.  As a result of that work, I’ve been presenting my ideas in many places and before many audiences, generally including mayors or other senior officials of local government.

Without going into the whole line of reasoning, I discuss the combined effects of (1) a future with ubiquitous high quality communications and (2) the shift of the labor force to providing ideas and other intangible services.  One implication of these trends is the disaggregation of the monolithic big company that would concentrate jobs in a city and, as an alternative, the empowerment of fluid teams of individuals.

To drive the point home, I argue that the true measure of the economic success of a city is the sum (or the median?) of the income and wealth of its residents – and not the total sales of companies that might have a local postal address there.  

In what sometimes comes across as a provocative statement, but isn’t, I put up an equation: economic growth does not equal real estate development.   I say that because a large part of the economic development expenditures of local governments have been about real estate development.

A few times in recent weeks, I’ve met with mayors or economic development directors who understand exactly what I’m talking about and see the future as I present it.  Then comes the response: “We should be thinking about the amount of money in the pockets of our residents, but you’re missing something here.  Our business – the city government – is mostly dependent upon property taxes and commercial real estate is the golden goose that lays most of those tax eggs.  We focus on real estate development because that’s where we get the return in the form of taxes later.”

That’s a fair argument for the year 2011, as far as it goes.  Of course, often what is a key part of the incentive package is a reduced property tax bill.  More important, commercial real estate will have a hard time maintaining itself in the face of the trends that I discuss.  Indeed, over the last ten years, many big companies have found that they need half the square footage per employee that they used to.  Even now, many employees telecommute or operate remotely somewhere out of the office.  So in the long run, this equation between real estate development and economic growth will break down.

This raises a more serious public policy question, though.  How did we get into such a situation where a smart mayor realizes that the economic success of the city government is misaligned with the success of the city’s residents?  And, for the viability of our democracy, how do we align these?

Or, if you want to ask a related and more pragmatic question: if the goose that laid the golden eggs – commercial real estate – is getting ready to retire, what replaces it?  

Either way you look at it, local governments in the United States need to shift away from their dependence on commercial property taxes.  There are various alternatives that cities have been forced to pursue and may have to depend on more.  Some examples: income taxes, property taxes on residences (which the Internet has now also made places of work and shopping) or even sales taxes on the goods/services that are sold directly into residences.  I’m not suggesting that any of these is perfect or even good, but they all share one characteristic – the revenue base grows as the city’s residents have more money in their pockets.

Whichever of these or other possibilities is selected, cities and counties will be forced to align their financial success with the economic success of their residents.  This is a good thing for their residents because their local government will then emphasize the development of each resident’s income potential.  Even from the narrow interest of the government as a business, this is a good thing because government will have a more assured revenue stream that is appropriate for a 21st century economy.

© 2011 Norman Jacknis 

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/9079495075/the-misalignment-between-the-economic-success-of-local]

Virtual vs. Physical Interactions

In response to my post of the Chattanooga editorial, someone wrote to me that he thought that virtual communications would make physical interaction even more important.  I won’t go into the whole argument here, but note that this is more sophisticated than the simple comparison of virtual vs. physical interactions that many people have made.

Nevertheless, I did think that it deserved a response and here it is:

I think the Internet in its current form (texting, email, social media, etc.) is still an immature form of communications.  So the crux of the matter is not so much whether the current Internet will change how people interact, but how the ubiquitous video communications of the future will affect behavior.

Our physical selves will not disappear, so there will still be physical interaction.  But I suspect that these interactions – and the cities in which these interactions takes place – will be of a different nature than what we’ve been accustomed to.  I’ve been working with the mayors, in part, on what that future city should look like and what will be its functions.  Most under threat is the urban model that primarily views the city as the dominant, centralized location of economic production.  Indeed, the traditional physical business cluster has already dissipated in many places – Detroit and Wall Street, to name just two famous clusters which are no longer as dominant in their industries as they used to be. 

Economic relationships will perhaps be more affected by ubiquitous video communications than other human relationships because video communications increases the likelihood that trust will develop between potential business partners.

Of course, how this all plays out will be a cultural question.  I remember that my grandmother believed that the telephone was only to be used for very minor or extremely urgent conversations – nothing in the wide swath of human conversation in the middle, especially not business.  If you wanted to converse with her, you saw her personally, probably preceded by a letter.  My parents thought this quaint and had no problem at all conducting important business matters on the telephone.  My bet is that the next generation will take video chat for granted as a perfectly acceptable way of doing business.

Time will tell – so let’s make a date in 20 years to see which of these opposing views gets closer to the future reality. 

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

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