How Far Can Innovation Take Our Cities?

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  • (From left) Bruce Katz, Janet Anderson, Gordon Feller, Michael Littlejohn, Carlo Ratti

  • Carlo Ratti

  • Michael Littlejohn

Panelists

Janet Anderson
Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies, Wayne State University

Gordon Feller
Director, Urban Innovations, Public Sector Practice, Cisco

Michael Littlejohn
Vice President, IBM Smarter Cities Strategy & Business Development

Carlo Ratti
Director, MIT SENSEable City Lab

Moderator

Bruce J. Katz
Vice President and Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution


How can tech and innovation drive productivity and efficiency in cities, and how can cities in turn drive national and global economies? Read excerpts from this discussion below, or download the full transcript.

KATZ: Technology and innovation drive cities, and cities drive national economies. If cities don’t perform, the nation doesn’t perform. The United States isn’t at the vanguard.

LITTLEJOHN: There is tremendous progress across the country, but it’s relatively siloed.  We can point to smarter water implementations and smarter transportation and smarter public safety and smarter health care and smarter grid and smarter building energy management, but that’s not necessarily a smarter city. A smarter city is really taking advantage of the fact that a city is a complex system of systems. Why are we lagging other countries? It’s the way we make decisions that gets in our way.

FELLER: Chattanooga decided to make the investment in building out broadband to every building in the city, and they are now seeing the economic benefits. A few cities have actually created the office of innovation attached to the mayor.

KATZ:  What are the possibilities as Detroit wrestles with hard fiscal and economic challenges?

ANDERSON: The many tax districts we have in Detroit create separate financial and governance structures, so that as much as downtown looks better than I’ve ever seen it, the benefits of that are not integrated into the old neighborhoods. One positive thing is that we are in such a weakened position, it’s forced us to open ourselves to any methods, be it outsourcing, be it complete privatization.

RATTI: Berlin 10 or 15 years ago had a lot of the issues Detroit has. But today it is one of the magnets in Europe. People from the creative classes moved there. The city is a booming. One reason is it has been very cheap to live in Berlin. But the other point is that the city became like an open platform. If you think about almost allowing people to hack the city in a tech sense, so people use the city for experiments. That top-down way of creating an office next to the mayor to promote innovation—you can do it, but it requires a lot of investment.

FELLER: The city and key institutions have to get together and say we want transparency around things like energy consumption in our buildings. What’s it going to take to have a dashboard that parents can access on their smartphones that see which schools are cleaner and greener and smarter? Most city leaders don’t understand that there has to be a way of engaging around the supercomputer we’re carrying around in our pocket that is a tool for transparency.

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