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What Does Your Crystal Ball Say?

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April 11, 2019

Remember Ms. Cleo?  Sure her fortune telling accuracy was debatable, but who doesn’t want a clear look into the future?

If you had a crystal ball, what is the one question you would ask? Surely it should be one that ensures your personal fortune experiences a 10x increase. 

This week our wishes extend beyond dollars and cents.  Inspired by the hot-off-the-press handbook The Future of U.S. Cities: How Cities Are Innovating With Intention to Achieve Impact, by the Aspen Institute’s Center for Urban Innovation and Boston Consulting Group’s Centre for Public Impact, we’re shifting our focus to the opportunity that lies at the intersection of community and the built environment — our cities. 

According to the United Nations, 55 percent of the global population currently lives in cities. By 2050, that number is expected to reach 68 percent, which means an additional 2.5 billion people will reside in urban areas. Josh Sorin, CPI’s City Innovation Program Lead, offers three “must haves” in designing the future of our cities — legitimacy, equity and agility.

If you had a trust-o-meter, would it display a trust deficit or overflow?  As we’ve explored in past posts, trust created through a combination of consistency over time.  Yet, when it comes to building institutions— even the organizations that serve as the vehicles to implement our boldest business ideas– we must add another layer: transparency.  For cities this may show up as user centric efforts to increase access and ease of service delivery.  Projects like the City of Miami’s Open Data Portal give us a clear view of how government functions.  That’s radical transparency.

Though many see equity as a complicated topic, making equitable decisions often boils down to a matter of perspective.  For example, Noah Siegal, Interim Deputy Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation describes his department’s mandate as “fulfilling a social compact to protect the public right away.”  I wonder what our communities would look like if we all thought about equity with a similar level of intention. If so, equity would evolve beyond a buzzword to a daily lens through which we view our environments, opportunities, policies, people and decision-making. 

Agility means more than being able to touch your toes or execute a perfect cartwheel the same way you could at age 8.  Developers understand agile as a design process that involve cross functional collaboration and iterative sprints.   A recent McKinsey study highlights 12 disruptive technologies that have the potential to transform the way cities operate:

If the speed of technology drives the rate of change, then we’re in for a fast ride.  Agility allows our cities, and the institutions that keep them running, to keep pace or move ahead of the curve. 

The Future of US Cities handbook offers an unconventional lens through which to view the growth of cities.  From any perspective– resident, private, public or civic sector– it underscores the importance of connecting innovation with equity and empowerment.


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