Innovation City = Strong + Smart City

The recent Innovation City conference hosted by the MaRS Discovery District and sponsored by IBM and their Smarter Cities Challenge stirred much needed debate around the future of Canadian urban centers.  Typical conversation around infrastructure, transit, talent attraction and retention was framed by the need to enhance information infrastructure to better manage the challenges and complexities of urban development and growth.  “Smarter Cities” mean enhanced connectivity and fluid understanding and application of technology in cities.

Missing from the conversation though, was an understanding of “digital citizen”.  What does it mean for a city to have millions of its citizens connected and sharing information?  Can citizen connectivity enhance urban economic development?  Of course it can.  Active citizens are hacking municipal data and making apps that enhance quality of life.  They are using kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise money through crowd-sourcing for infrastructure investment they want.

Citizen engagement is fundamental to cultivating a vibrant city.  With more and more citizens using technology to connect and enhance their local community, it’s time for municipal leaders to consider how harnessing this and engaging their citizens can benefit urban vitality. 

People at the Centre of Urban Planning: part of the paradigm shift 

The city of London recently launched an unconventional approach to Master Planning: ReThink London, a year – long community conversation. Typical master plans take  3 – 5 years to create, but London’s planning department is hoping to shorten the planning process to one year by engaging many voices. 

ReThink London will bring together community members, civic leaders and urban planners to share ideas on how to shape the future of the city.  ReThink is effectively putting people at the centre of urban master planning.  Through broad engagement tactics including social media, community forums, web and paper submissions, ReThink is creating the avenues for feedback and actively soliciting community involvement.  Build Strong Cities advocates for placing people at the centre of urban planning and urban economic development, and is looking forward to being a part of the ReThink process! 

Total (Ballot) Recall?

I’ll admit that I started paying attention to California’s economic and political scene because I was interested in Governor Schwarzenegger.   The Peoples Machine by Joe Mathews is a fascinating introduction to California’s political history and Governor Schwarzenegger’s political rise.  The more I learned about California, the more parallels I drew between the state of California and the province of Ontario.  Both are the largest by populous and percentage contributing to GDP in their respective countries, and both carry roughly the same deficit.  But according to this simple comparison by Global Economic Analysis, California is looking better than Ontario.

State/Province     Population      Deficit             Per Capita Depty 

Ontario                11,410,046       $21 Billion         $1,840

California             36,961,664       $20 Billion         $541

As an economic developer in Canada’s 10th largest city, California’s economy continues to fascinate me because of it’s size: larger than Canada’s.  Though the differences in our political systems make it difficult to draw direct comparisons, it’s interesting to think about the scale and scope of economic development and how federal and state policies impact local and regional economic growth.

California’s unique electoral system enables direct democracy through forced public vote.  Direct citizen engagement in policy no doubt shapes the social, cultural, political, and economic climate of a State.  I’ll be researching California’s initiative process in the coming months to determine what kind of impact direct democracy can have on economic policy, and ultimately economic growth. 

A thesis I am trying to advance through Build Strong Cities is: “In the past, economic development focused on issues of policy and formal governance.  Today it must focus on the body politic.”  It will be interesting to consider an economic system that has allowed civic engagement through the initiative process and what impact that has had on economic output. Despite deficit challenges, California has some of the largest and most prosperous urban areas in the US.  Maybe citizen engagement had something to do with it.