Cities Society Techonomy Events

Program Director Ross Reflects on Detroit

Tiana Epps-Johson presents at Techonomy Detroit 2015 on "Civic Engagement & The New Digital Divide"

Tiana Epps-Johnson presents at Techonomy Detroit 2015 on “Civic Engagement & The New Digital Divide.”

It’s been a couple of weeks since our fourth Techonomy Detroit. It was one of our best! Here are some of the highlights.

Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, on community based healthcare from the bottom-up, inequality and the responsibility of CEOs. Not only does he dress like a rock star but he also found time the night before to do the Slow Roll (for those unfamiliar, that’s a huge group bike ride in Detroit).

The Get Engaged! session moderated by James Fallows with Google’s John Webb, Microsoft’s Annmaire Levins, IBM’s Jennifer Crozier and Detroit’s Lauren Hood on civic tech and civic life. Read Tech Giants Turn Attention To Civic Life for details. As Esther Dyson tweeted, it was a bit of a “reality check” session, with Lauren Hood reminding us all that “What’s missing is that the people most impacted by this technology are not in the room, and that model gets replicated on any problem we have.” Our closing session Making Detroit a Movement, also had some friction to it, and a number of conference attendees, found it a conversation about Detroit’s complexities that they’d been waiting to hear for some time.

For more on the strong conference civic tech theme, everyone should watch Tiana Epps-Johnson’s concise presentation Civic Tech and the New Digital Divide on elections and voting space. She created the Center for Technology and Civic Life. Not that many people realize that, as she reported, “There are nearly 8,000 government agencies responsible for US elections alone… And there are very, very, very few widely adopted data standards.”

Peter Hirshberg’s presentation on A Maker City is a Jazz City drew connections between innovation and improvisation in cities and jazz. “When jazz came in and it debuted, it too was criticized as messy, complicated, and irrationally improvisational… And I think this is a wonderful analogy. It’s kind of Robert Moses versus Jane Jacobs–the fight between the well-organized, predictable and orderly, and the complexity and the cacophony of the city.”

And now to make a leap from Detroit to Burning Man, two very different cities. Architect and futurist Thomas Ermancora (a speaker on the opening Can We Hack Our Way to the Cities We Need? session) writes for us in Mad Max with Flowers and Margaritas: How Burning Man Points to the Future that, “What I see is that it is just like a city. There are neighborhoods, camps and communities of all kinds, good and bad depending on who you are. If you find your tribe, you are set to experience something special and massively valuable: complete freedom of expression.”

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