Mayors and innovation: there is much to do and they want help
Political conventions are often known for funny hats, rousing speeches, and lots of receptions and parties, but they are also an opportunity for civic leaders to come together, talk about the issues they are facing, and share ideas. The National Conference of Democratic Mayors held just such a session last week in Philadelphia called “City Solutions: Innovations.”
Moderated by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, a panel of innovative mayors from Louisville, San Jose, Charlotte, South Bend, and Phoenix took off their political hats and discussed what they have done and the challenges they face in being disruptive and making their cities work for all of their diverse citizens. From using data and technology to drive better decision making to partnering with universities, NGOs, and local companies to drive economic growth, these mayors have shown how the US is a world leader in being innovative. As I have traveled the world, I have seen many of the ideas being developed in these cities now being explored across the globe. We can learn from other countries, and they can learn from us.
San Francisco and San Jose are leveraging their proximity to the tech hub in Silicon Valley to drive innovation at a municipal level, but each of the cities has built these partnerships with local experts at universities, tech startups, and old line companies, finding new ways to address the same problems all cities face. It was clear that no matter where you are, there are innovation partners like AECOM and others in the private sector who can bring value to the city and are motivated to help because these are the places where we live and work as well as being clients.
I had the opportunity to ask the mayors how we can be better partners in this effort, and what I heard from South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, and others on the panel was that they need easy-to-implement solutions, as cities are always challenged in having enough staff to implement new ideas. Cities need turnkey, simple solutions that can be quickly and effectively brought online without a lot of investment of staff time. Mayor Lee also asked for help in creating better understanding for citizens on the salience of infrastructure projects and how large projects like the San Francisco sea wall project relate to their everyday life. Flood protection, transit maintenance, and wastewater treatment aren’t things most people think about – until it’s too late. What was very clear to me from this discussion was that mayors need help, and in many of our cities they are looking for new ways to do things and new ways to work across the public and private spectrum.