Video interview on governing in cities conducted at Amsterdam's Picnic October 2011.
View video here
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Monday, November 16, 2015
Apprentice at Work in Dubai
Tim Campbell, PhD
Posted by Woodrow Wilson Center Urban Sustainability Lab, Nov 2015.
By setting it looks like Miami Beach, but stretched out over 150 kms. By pace of growth it rivals Guangzhou, by built-up area and density, it’s somewhere around New York, yet merely a baby as city histories go. And at the edges in virtually every direction on land, construction cranes (at one time, a third of the world’s total) populate the horizon like large flocks of birds. By pure glitz, it’s up there with Las Vegas, but the fantasy and artifice of Vegas, not to mention its small size, puts it in a separate, and decidedly lower, tier. By skyline, there’s nothing in the world to compare with Dubai and its neighboring Emirates to the east and west—Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Together, they feature a vision that outdoes Paris at its height; strategic coordination and intensity equal to Barcelona and Amsterdam today; and pure scope and pace of change of the fastest of Asian cities. And all this in 50 years. Can it be sustained?
Dubai skyline, midtown
The raw newness of this UAE urban complex (stretching 200 km from Sharjah, through Dubai to Abu Dhabi) and the economic engine that calls to mind the eruptions of the sorcerer’s apprentice driving growth and creating a knot of gee-whiz designs, visual surprises and socio-historical contradictions.
Nothing symbolizes the naked iconic musculature of the UAE urban complex more than the Burj Khalifa, the 850 meter skyscraper that stands at the heart of UAE’s bid for global bragging rights about things urban. Less than 10 kms away, at the epicenter of the original settlement, stands Heritage Village—a small, humble testament to mud brick defensive construction built before the British invasion to protect the tiny pearling and fishing village that characterized the seaside way of life before oil. The shadow of the Burj’s shiny steel and glass, soaring a half mile into the sky, throws a metaphorical and literal shadow over its earthen-works forebear. The tiny fort-cum museum, though well-preserved and touted as an important symbol of Emirati culture, is nearly lost in the swirl of dense commerce and modern projects surrounding it.
Burj Khalifa, 850 meters
That contrast is stretched even more starkly in the demographic profile of the urban machine. Emiratis have created a well-managed engine of growth that appears to be mostly efficient, free of corruption, heavily leveraged, and above all, outsourced. Emiratis control the commanding heights of strategy, but alien residents design, build, equip, manage, service, and maintain the urban apparatus in a ratio nearing nine to one, aliens to locals. Ex-pats provide the lion’s share of professional class and virtually the entirety of service workers turning the quotidian gears of city machinery—police, fire, taxi, inspectors, maids, hospitality positions, food establishments and entertainment. A little more than one million Emiratis live in gated communities around the edges of Dubai and other cities; just under nine million foreign workers lease or free-hold in and around other parts of town. Ex-pats working here tell you that middle level Emirati engineers turn up at 10 and leave at 3. Taxi drivers, mostly from South Asia, speak of a growing trend of “me-first” attitudes by a younger generation of Emiratis who are aloof and feel entitled. And why not: Hasn’t the city been built at Emirati bidding?
View from “The Top” of the Burj (part of Dubai Mall at left)
And it’s not just oil that drives the building machine in the UAE. Non-oil sources of income have grown to more than half the budget to finance the growing city. And no taxes; UAE does not impose corporate, property or income taxes as we know them in the West, though the recent plunge in oil prices may force them in that direction. With this in mind, when first laying eyes on Dubai, I was reminded of a P-38 (you know, the WWII twin-engine fighter plane whose most distinguishing features were its twin booms stretching back from its engines to twin tails in place of a conventional fuselage). So why a P-38? The joke during wartime was that when the P-38 first hit the skies, it was said to look like a Baltimore lady of the night: No visible means of support. Same for Dubai: How on earth does this urban machine keep flying?
The answer is not so complicated. It’s a matter of borrowing and critical mass. Early on, oil financed or backed debt on the first stages of construction. Today, oil revenues represent a much smaller proportion of GDP, but they continue to support expansion as well as to offer what financial industry calls “comfort.” The UAE took a major stake in revenue properties in giant holding corporations (hotels, business parks, commercial centers) among other lines of business. These along with public services (visas, work permits and the like) produce the lion’s share of the income stream for the government. More than 17 million tourists visited the UAE in 2014. The growing urban agglomeration attracted investors—Dubai’s sovereign debt has shot up to nearly US$60 billion—even after the shock of 2008.
These are brought into harness to finance a long term vision of growth that will eventually sew together the still-separate urban pieces along the Gulf into a single whole. The future UAE city will stretch from Sharjah, which will feature cultural and religious themes building on its magnificent Museum and Islamic Religion and Culture; to Dubai, the go-go tourist playground with its Palm Island and gigantic master-planned areas (some slated to be twice the size of Disney World); to Abu Dhabi, which will build on its role as the seat of political power with the fillip of places like Masdar, the experimental sustainable city and Yas Island, a giant complex currently housing conference centers and Ferrari speed world and Formula One race track. The three Emirates will contribute to joint ventures, like Global Expo in 2020, Davos World Economic Forum, a new Louvre and Guggenheim museums, and tripling the size of its airport, among and others.
Masdar wind tower “Pineapple” buildings in Abu Dhabi
Sustainability is the watchword of cities these days, and the UAE urban system is challenged mightily on this score. Per capita water consumption and energy use in Dubai rank among the top ten cities of the world. Abu Dhabi has created Masdar City, a lab to explore innovation in design and function of urban systems (see the wind tower and narrow, carless streets in photo). The catchy “pineapple” building in Abu Dhabi is one example of incorporating innovative designs—star-shaped mechanisms that open and close like flowers in response to sunlight. Goals are being set to achieve seven percent solar by 2020 in Abu Dhabi, but with its desert setting and, and especially the tourist orientation in Dubai, reaching sustainable growth is far away.
The UAE’s urban vision is sweeping in concept, impressive in its accomplishments so far, yet questionable in many ways. Its unique character grows from singular combination of geo-historical synthesis, managed well. (Where might Indonesia, Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria have ended up were they to have enjoyed the same careful, uncorrupted management of fossil fuels?) Yet the vision, the intensity and the success of the UAE urban system will exert mighty pressures on the environment, the cultural patrimony, and the Emiratis who, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, show no signs of staying the hand on the magical source of growth.
Dumb Phones, Smart Kids: Emerging Impacts on Cities
Tim Campbell and Daniella Ben Attar
Originally posted in a group blogging event organized by Meeting of the Minds in April 2013.
Citizens in the developing world, and especially the young, are increasingly connected to narrow band mobile phones, and these devices, as limited as they are, are having a seismic impact on political, economic and social life in cities. This blog responds to a group blogging prompt “How is technology impacting social and economic divisions in cities?”. It builds on an earlier post which describes the emergence of activist youth making use of mobile platforms.
Bumpiness Ahead: Demographics and Technology
They may not be disruptive now, but population shifts in cities and the proliferation of mobile phones are making for interesting times. Two parallel changes—one known as the “youth bulge” and the other the “mobile miracle”—have set the stage for change. The youth bulge refers to a ballooning of a new generation of urban citizens thanks to improvements in control over communicable diseases. The bulge is working its way through the population pyramid, especially in the developing world. At the same time, the mobile miracle—the explosion of hand-held devices and computer technologies—has brought cheap phones into communities, as well as fresh challenges and striking new opportunities for youth to cross over traditional divides in cities.
Today, the young (ages 15 to 24) number more than 1.2 billion, and more than 80 percent live in developing countries. Despite their growing number, youth are largely excluded from participation in the decision-making process, leaving them socially and politically marginalized. Moreover, the young are often viewed as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. For example, while young people in the Arab States comprise approximately one-third of the region’s population, they are often excluded from decision-making on issues that directly affect their lives, such as lack of education, high unemployment and poverty.
Making Do with Narrow Band
The limitations of both physical access and the cost of broadband have led to the development of innovative “narrowband” mobile communications applications tailored for users in developing countries. Low-end phone capabilities such as text messaging and simple internet access is facilitating scaled-down versions of social networking, pay-as-you go mobile data access and web searching. In essence, mobile phones are now providing new avenues for increasing numbers of citizens in the developing world to access the benefits of broadband internet. In many ways, the development of narrowband functionalities and mobile platforms can be seen as a commercial response to the growing youth mobile market.
Young people in the developing world have worked around the limitations of broadband access by developing “stripped down” applications such as Facebook Zero, Renren (in China), Opera Mini, Mixit, and Gmail SMS. Text messaging (SMS) is one of the most popular types of mobile phone usage in developing countries. Nearly five trillion text messages were sent worldwide in 2010, with mobile owners reporting a much higher percentage of usage for text messaging than other mobile functions.
Local Governments Venture Out
Though most are slow to act, local governments are beginning to listen to youth via ICTs. As a large part of the population, youth benefit from general ICT-enabled services being implemented by local governments, such as permit applications, sales licenses, and other administrative measures. Increasingly, platforms such as Huduma in Kenya offer mobile-based communication avenues for citizens to voice, SMS or email complaints about service needs or comments that go directly to authorities and service providers. Similar platforms and services exist in Peru.
In Surabaya, “Broadband Centers” are located in strategic locations across the city. “Business Development Centers” equipped with high speed internet and ICT equipment are being set up in each of Kigali’s three districts as part of a national initiative to develop ICT usage.
ICTs are breaking the traditional codes between youth and government. Cheap and ubiquitous cell phones and social media create a daily bond among young citizens and between youth groups and leaders. This phenomenon was non-existent as recently as a decade ago; it represents a potentially momentous change in government-youth relationships. As a veteran youth leader from Kigali noted “A few years ago, a leader would usually go down to the field one day and go back to the same place only one year later. And in between there would be no way to reach him or make him accountable. Now the bond with social media is reaffirmed on a daily basis. Leaders can’t just promise things and disappear.” The increased volume of traffic puts pressure on governments that is increasingly difficult to ignore.
ICTs can also improve the quality and quantity of user-generated information in a way that transforms how public officials and local government bureaucrats understand the needs of youth. Conversely, youth groups are more aware of the limitations and possibilities of local governments in providing services. User-generated content among youth is a key ingredient to this process. In Uganda, a UNICEF supported program run by local youth organizations entitled Ureport has created a platform for strengthening communication and dialogue around core development issues through SMS and the radio. With over 89,000 Ugandans signed up and participating as of March 2012, young “social monitors” are sent regular polls, gather data on community services and issues, and receive useful facts for action and advocacy – providing the “pulse” of Ugandan youth.
Needed: Social Capital Old and Young
The relative advantage of young people who have grown up with modern devices has created a “youth-local government ICT gap.” Experience with eGovernment services in the past has demonstrated that factors such as technological and human capacity, financial sustainability and bureaucratic resistance can limit the adoption of ICT programs and reduce their long-term impact. The Executive Director of MAP Kibera, a young leader from Kenya, observed “the reality is that most people in government are not very strong ICT users, this is something youth do better. We encourage them to blog in and respond, but a lot of them still believe in the traditional form of governance, setting meetings and sitting down together. We are trying to change this.”
Young leaders in Sri Lanka are training municipal officials in computer skills and creating new ICT platforms for citizen-government local interaction. This is part of a broader UN-HABITAT supported youth-led training and education program in Kandy City entitled YES – City of Youth. Through the course of project implementation, the ICT capacity gap among local officials emerged as a major barrier to overall progress that needed to be addressed: “One major barrier we have is communicating with city officials who like paper and face-to-face interactions. To change this situation, we started training City Council staff on Internet, email, local language ICT and Facebook. We plan to connect city officials to citizens on a Facebook Page.”
However, there is still a need for ICT skill-building among youth, particularly to enable them to move beyond simpler mobile phone platforms and into more robust systems based on the internet. Fostering these skills needs to go in tandem with infrastructure to support broadband capacity everywhere. As these skill sets expand and grow among youth, there will inevitably be a deeper and more pervasive impact on local government.
National government leaders are setting the example for engaging directly with citizens (especially youth) through ICTs, although this trend has not been institutionalized. Several case interviews (Kigali, Tanzania, Gaza, Kenya, South Africa) illustrate ICT activity at the national level where leaders are using Twitter accounts, blogs, SMSs and websites to engage with their citizens, who by default end up being mostly youth. These instances come to light partly from frustration among young people whose voices are ignored or unheard by elder leaders at the local level (a sentiment echoed by all youth interviewed to date).
At the same time, the evidence suggests great potential for fostering youth leadership at the local level, partly through the use of ICT. Many cases point to an emerging trend of young leadership in developing countries that offers an opportunity for the increased use of ICTs for governance and positive engagement with youth. Young leaders in government are the lowest hanging fruit in terms of adopting ICTs to improve local governance for youth. For instance, in Rwanda and Tanzania, it is the younger leaders and city officials that are using ICT tools to reach out and speak directly to youthful constituents using their own vernacular language. They can be identified as key champions in taking forward ICT-enabled urban governance for youth.
The increase in younger people occupying positions of power has contributed to a change in mindsets. The cases suggest that youth are encouraged toward civic action by the presence of strong role models. Also, informants feel that the wider community has begun to view youth differently, seeing them as leaders and change-makers. Young people are increasingly regarded as innovative, fast, and result-oriented. This is a key opportunity that can advance broader youth-focused change. Furthermore, as the major segment of the population, avid users of mobile platforms and innovators of new technology, it seems evident that youth will be at the forefront of the move to ICT-enabled governance. As the youth of today and their future children take up new, faster, more connected technologies, cities will need to turn over a new leaf in their engagement with youth. Sometimes the best way for cities to impact the poor is to start near the bottom, making use of the most basic technologies for now, and then look to upgrade as prices fall and better devices become more widespread.
Smartness in Three Flavors
Tim Campbell, PhD
Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center
Several years ago in Beyond Smart Cities*, I wrote about cities on the prowl. By the thousands, cities from around the globe are flying every which way, searching like so many hunters and gatherers to learn and share information. By one estimate, the 1000 cities on the planet that have more than a half million population are engaged in many thousands of exchanges every year. Why so much prowling? It’s much cheaper and less risky to pick up the secrets of success by examining innovations at close range in other cities, where new practices have been tried out, than to reinvent the wheel back home. Nothing has slowed that pace, but some of the consequences of so much international inter-city exchange is smartness that is now appearing in three flavors.
First, cities are learning how to learn. This week, C-40 reported that cities are learning how to design and implement home-grown climate change reforms by picking clues and patterns from each other. In C-40, as with ICLEI and dozens of other special purpose NGOs, new attention is being paid to the learning process. A cottage industry of city-related web-sites, magazines, conferences, and blogs has shot up over the past decade. Atlantic Cities, Cities Today, CitiScope, New City, Next City, Sustainable Cities and many more aggregators specialize in pumping out lessons, spotting connections and focusing information on issues, policies and practices. The same is true of city-based membership organizations like CityNet, Global Cities Indicators, ICMA, Metropolis and UCLG. These organizations have always traded in information and knowledge, but the focus and sophistication are on the rise. These make it easier for cities to access and absorb new information.
A second flavor is that cities are learning how to be smart cities. One of the most ubiquitous, if not the most popular, topics of exchange concerns the high tech and usually web-based applications that are at the core of smart cities. The prospects can be dazzling. Most involve sensors and feedback, in public spaces, parking spaces, car lanes, water systems, power grids, public lighting, neighborhoods and much more. Consider autonomous vehicles as a publicly-owned utility. A recent traffic model at the University of X showed that autonomous vehicles numbering only a fraction of a city’s total fleet could reduce by an order of magnitude the number of vehicles on the road at any given time. That reduction could also clear the way for amenities in expanded open space and lead to dramatic reductions in accidents and fatalities. In the case of electric utilities, power management ranges from the individual household feeding the grid to smart grids at the regional scale feeding each other and each benefiting from reciprocal flows depending on grid requirements.
All these and other examples to some extent depend on centralized and decentralized elements reading and reacting to each other. We are told that the actions of thousands upon thousands of individuals can be rendered into patterns that can be made sense of, helping both centralized elements of the city—utilities, managers of vehicle fleets and buildings, first responders—to make more informed decisions just as individuals themselves can benefit by making more informed choices, for instance, to avoid congestion, find parking, adjust heating and lighting, or book a car. Most of these examples are already out there, and cities are quickly spreading this second flavor of smartness.
Third, and most important, cities are taking on a new awareness about themselves, a new and potentially transformative smartness: the collective identity of cities on the global scene. One of the by-products of so much city intercourse is the growing awareness among cities that they as individual actors have a vast greenfield of common ground. This terrain is rich in possibilities for cooperative action on many issues of national and global significance. National actions on global issues have proven to be sluggish and disappointing. Meanwhile, cities have made steady progress on a dozen fronts, some modest, others promising. Hundreds of cities have taken comprehensive action on climate change. Many have found novel ways to handle immigration, to set up first lines of defense to prevention of epidemic diseases, to strengthen resilience, and to a lesser extent, to fight poverty and preserve cultural assets. Sooner or later these small bricks will pile up to a more significant edifice of change. In all these flavors of smartness, private industry has shown an eagerness to enter these arenas bringing a fresh sense of possibilities and partnerships in cities that are simply not possible at the national level.
Cities have entered a transformative period of smartness in many flavors. They have shown us that city-to-city learning is alive with possibilities. City-to-city exchange leads improved learning as well as to smart technologies which can revolutionize the relationships between center and periphery at every scale. Perhaps most intriguing, a new dawning has arrived as cities become cognizant of the benefits of cooperation with each other on problems of global goods.
*Beyond Smart Cities: How Cities Network, Learn and Innovate. London: Routledge/Earthscan, 2012.
Big Bright Lights, Middle Weights, and Little Gems—The Unpredictable Origins of City Greatness
Posted in Governing Magazine’s "Voices of the Governing Institute" December 9, 2013 under the title: The “Lessons from a Road Trip Across America: Size Doesn’t Matter.”
Motoring across the US isn’t what it used to be. My first few crossings four decades ago while still being educated were marked by tall cups of java and an incessant sprint for the horizon. On my just-completed trip, the pace was slower, the stops more selective, and the itinerary much more serpentine.
After 4100 miles, 20 nights, and 14 cities, a surprising picture of urban America—one of contrasts and contradictions—comes to light. What stands out is not the predominance of old cultural settlements of East Coast elites, but ancient Western desert towns still thriving with innovative art; not the bright lights of major metropolises, but the tiny sparkle of urban gems on the smaller end of the urban spectrum; and above all, the motor survey brings a renewed appreciation for the unpredictable nature of innovation and change in cities, equal parts old-fashioned creativity and new-fashioned smartness. Let’s start with the bright lights. In succeeding posts, I’ll cover the tiny sparkles and the middle-weight wonders.
Atlanta, Nashville, and Las Vegas—metropolitan areas in the one to six million range—have no shortage of light. Atlanta exudes a sense of confidence and expansion. Conventional sectors like health and education, and industries like Coke and CNN, are taken for granted. The brightest light now glowing in Atlanta emanates from the financial sector which has elbowed into Wall Street’s long-held first place in financial trades. New wealth continues to spill into the public sphere. The city’s aquarium stands up to Monterey Bay. Extensions in fixed-rail transit and new sports facilities are testing whether the centrifugal forces of the city’s infamous low density can be overcome by new gravity at the center.
In Nashville, the Opry continues a tradition of polished presentation, fed by a super cluster of honky-tonks on music row. These are living nursery beds of budding musicians whose sounds roll out onto the streets morning, noon and night. They are the fine grain feedstock for a music publication industry that is outsized for the city’s population.
The most striking feature of Las Vegas is the city’s ability to reinvent the same genre it launched in the 1950s, continually turning over (read: demolishing by the dozens) gargantuan venues to meet, and lead, new tastes in entertainment. These cities of big light surprise us in the extent to which innovation builds on and deepens their distinct cultural identities.
Part II: Middle Weight Wonders
Ed Glaeser’s “The Triumph of Cities” argues that big cities produce greater efficiency thanks in part to the multiple interactions made possible by simple propinquity. Not only do large crowds make for more interactions, the innovative product of cities seems to grow faster than population. That’s what Geoffrey West and his colleagues tell us from the Santa Fe Institute. While we’re accustomed to observing innovation in large places, contemporary urban America also gives us many smaller, also innovative places, those well under one million like Chattanooga, Tennessee (core population 150,000) and Asheville, North Carolina (core population 50,000), where striking change seems to be an on-going thing.
Chattanooga has led the way in two major ventures recently. First was managing dense urban living on a flood plain. Three decades ago city leaders were stung by bad press the city received about the polluted Tennessee River that courses through the city. Injury had preceded insult. Chattanooga had long-suffered repeated floods and had relegated the river-way to the urban fringe. To their credit, city leaders moved to completely redesign the riverfront areas, not just to clean up, but to create greater compatibility between risks of flood and convivial urban living. The result is a graceful ribbon of park and recreation land along the riparian zones above, along the downtown, and downstream from the city.
Second, Chattanooga leapt into an early lead on smartness among U.S. cities. When the city utility wanted to take advantage of smart meters for greater efficiency in managing energy and load-sharing, they included high speed internet to utility customers as a side benefit. The result is that Chattanoogans now enjoy broadband speeds several hundred times faster than in most American cities.
Asheville, North Carolina is enjoying its own version of renaissance. Building on a long history of health tourism and art, the city maintains a good living showing visitors the natural fit of things. Traditional Indian trails course through the beautiful hills that surround the city and, in present-day form, convey modern traffic downtown. Grand buildings like the Biltmore estate and the sanitarium where Zelda Fitzgerald tragically lost her life in a fire are alive with new uses. Blossoming on the edges of the city is an art scene so robust that it occupies multiple genres, both in levels of refinement and specialized districts scattered around town.
Two other examples of middle-weights—Albuquerque and Oklahoma City—have managed their own points of pride. The Brickworks area in downtown Oklahoma City is not unlike San Antonio. It is an inviting, walkable, and entertaining center. We enjoyed a juicy filet mignon at Mickey Mantle’s, perched on the edge of the waterway. (We didn’t go to Oklahoma City for Mickey’s or the waterway, but once in town, that’s where we wanted to be.) Albuquerque has much to offer, but nothing quite as arresting as its annual International Balloon Festival. This year, 500 globes lifted gracefully into a perfect azure sky like so many brilliantly-colored dandelions floating in the wind. How many cities hold international balloon festivals?
As with the bright lights places mentioned earlier, the point is not to merely tout creative ideas, but to spot these outliers and to raise the question about the origins and impact of innovative urban places. If creative urbanism can happen in middle weight cities, urban wannabes anywhere need not be discouraged by small size. It seems there’s something more in the magic recipe of innovation. Next and last stop: Tiny Gems.
Part III Tiny Gems
The tiny gems in the American urban system are in many ways more striking than their larger cousins, not only in their innovative accomplishments, but in the cases of Branson, Missouri (population 10,000) and Columbus, Indiana (population around 50,000) a deliberate aim to invent a synthetic, but impressive urban environment. One slightly larger gem, Santa Fe, New Mexico (pop. 70,000) arose around settlements that go back nearly a millennium. The city stands apart from other places in many ways. Much older than the first settlements in the original colonies, Santa Fe is a wonder of handsome urban design and superlative art, both of which built on the special environmental endowment—both natural and manmade—of the of the city’s ancient founders.
Branson spent four decades building an entertainment industry around a man-made lake and a turn-of-the-century novel about life in the Ozarks, the regional mountains in southwest Missouri. Today, Branson is a vibrant entertainment and tourism economy that boasts more seats than the theater district around Broadway in New York City and hosts more than 2 million visitors a year.
Columbus, Indiana (population under 50,000) meanwhile, launched a distinct cultural vision of its own, more or less along the same timeline as Branson. Drawing on the architectural proclivities of local philanthropists, including Cummins Engine, a major diesel engine exporter, Columbus fostered more than 70 public and private buildings designed by world class architects, the likes of I. M. Pei, Eero Saarinen, Thomas Moore, Kevin Roche, and Cesar Pelli. The city is a veritable museum of modern design (ranked 11th in the US for historic destinations). Some buildings, such as the community college technology training center, function as tools to renew and refine local talent that redound back into the local economy in high tech industries and the learning and conference services.
These examples fall outside the prediction by Geoffrey West and his colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute. West focuses on the power law (innovation, efficiency, whatever grows faster than population) to explain urban features. The little gems I have discussed are outliers, to be sure. Neither Columbus nor Branson, and arguably not Santa Fe itself, would rank very high, if they appeared at all, on the list of centers in entertainment and design (as would be predicted by the power law).
But what then are we to make of the outliers? This is not to say the mathematical regularities about cities are useless or wrong. They are both productive and insightful. But these examples, in the context of the norm, raise questions about the conditions of innovation and the process of creativity in the rich collective domains we call cities.
In this brief motor tour, we get small glimpses about this creative process. These outliers show that policy makers need not feel chained to the power law and the characteristic features of cities in their size range. But where are cities to get their mojo if they want to be an inventive place? The cities of bright lights and tiny sparkles suggest that fundamental forces—like human values of vanity, pride, and identify—have played some part. Shame played a role in Chattanooga; pride was important in Columbus. People care very much about where they live. They identify with place and this gets expressed in multiple ways in the term “pride of place.” Of course leadership and vision also matter. Asheville has worked hard to enhance its legacy assets and mix them with emerging artistic expression. These same combinations are found in Santa Fe.
These forces also play some role in the bigger places. Atlanta, Nashville and Las Vegas rumble ahead on trajectories that result from many complex factors. They may or may not be as prideful as others, but they show a consistent pursuit of identity. In Las Vegas, demolitions suggest that projecting identity is not without experiment. Whether you like these places or not, leadership and a search for identity are in the mix. Appealing to pride of place among citizenry maybe deserves more attention as contemplate their futures. Above all, the fates of cities large and small are not written only in the laws of large numbers.
Clouds of Trust in Charlotte
Tim Campbell, PhD
Posted in UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, March 2012.
Adapted from Beyond Smart Cities: How Cities Network, Learn and Innovate. London: Routlege/Earthscan 2012. More here.
Smart cities around the world use two secret weapons to form leadership and stay ahead of the pack in planning and economic development. One mechanism is internal, an informal, diverse but cohesive planning elite. Another is external, an outward-looking and systematic search for new knowledge, often by visiting other cities. I use “planning” in a broad sense, meaning not just land use, buildings and streets, but strategic vision and direction of growth, economically and physically. Charlotte can accelerate its path forward by combining currently disparate efforts in leadership and learning.
A seminal moment for Charlotte occurred in the late 1960s when key figures from South Tryon Street observed an elite group directing Philadelphia’s growth. The observers from Charlotte decided to organize a similar planning group back home. The clique — including Hugh McColl Jr. (from what’s now Bank of America), Ed Crutchfield (from what was then First Union bank), Rolfe Neill (then the Charlotte Observer publisher) and Bill Lee (from what’s now Duke Energy) — worked for years, expanding their network and effectively forging a new image of the city. All sat at the commanding heights of their respective domains in banking, the news media and the power industry. They steered the city toward a wholesale transformation which today is mostly complete, at least in terms of the downtown’s physical form.
But with the passing of the power elites and the banking crisis of 2008-2011, Charlotte is in a collective quandary. The future of the city’s leadership and means of livelihood are in question. Meanwhile, the strands of Charlotte’s growth are tangling into a growing knot of problems. Besides leadership itself, those problems include a persistent racial divide, school inequities, growing disparities in neighborhoods and new challenges relating to immigration of Latino and other ethnic minorities. This is not to imply the city is in relapse. On the contrary, latent social capital is emerging from many quarters to solve the city’s problems. But evidence from other cities suggests that Charlotte could organize and coordinate these energies to reinstate a steersman, guide the city’s direction and find innovative solutions to its problems.
Cities on the prowl: learning from others
Charlotte is not alone in questions of leadership and direction. Cities around the globe are developing the tools just like those that helped Charlotte nearly 50 years ago. Under the new imperatives of a global economy, many hundreds of cities are engaged in a round-the-world search for answers. Some of their most trusted sources are other cities.
More than a thousand cities on the planet with populations of a quarter million or more are engaged in a growing market of exchange in ideas. Those ideas cover dozens of issues, from land taxes to transit to street lights to economic development. I documented the breadth of this exchange in Beyond Smart Cities. A vibrant market of ideas has blossomed as cities take part in visits that number in the thousands each year.
Charlotte can learn much from other cities, but the step it needs to take first is building engagement and trust. These objectives are not currently part of the external learning being undertaken in Charlotte. The Charlotte Chamber plays a dominant role in organizing study missions, and though those missions are popular and successful, the targets and topics for the most part have focused on rebuilding and maintaining commercial competitiveness.
One recent visit, in 2009, was to Charlotte itself. The chamber structured a “self-visit” and sparked something of an awakening. Participants began to catch sight of the interaction between finding new ideas elsewhere and processing them internally. This double function was something the original Tryon Street planning clique was able to achieve. Like the Roman god Janus, they looked inward and outward. Charlotte today needs to rebuild some version of that circumspect old guard.
Learning and leadership
Charlotte’s many civic players, with the Foundation for the Carolinas playing a key role, have picked up this mantle of service. Among other aims, the foundation intentionally works with partners to pair individuals and organizations in a way that forges ties between institutions. Identities and ideas are deliberately mixed so as to achieve a blending. Yet while this construction of social capital seems to be working, it does not address the issue of collective learning by the emerging leadership.
Successful cities go beyond pervasive fiber connectedness and multiple sensors. They succeed in two parallel tracks. They are proactive in reaching out for new knowledge, and they establish and groom informal mechanisms to process what they learn. In short, they establish an ability to gain new knowledge and act in a cohesive way.
One way to measure cohesiveness is through clouds of trust. The adjoining graphic represents Charlotte’s web-work of ties among key actors whom I interviewed for the book. Similar clouds were constructed for other cities. Interviewees were asked to identify people they trusted implicitly. Red dots are informants, blue squares represent trusted others. The figures graphically illustrate the cross-overs between and among public, private and civic participants who have gained the trust of their peers.
The cloud in Charlotte contrasts sharply with other cities, like Portland, Turin and Barcelona (shown as City X in the Figure). Some city networks are less dense, with pronounced sub-clusters, reflecting a more heterogeneous composition. The strength in Charlotte’s somewhat homogeneous composition is the speed with which ideas circulate and the coherence of Charlotte’s response to opportunities like prospective new investors or challenges like natural disasters. Clouds that are less dense slow the spread of information and consensus. On the other hand, because they are more heterogeneous, “slow” clouds have a different advantage: They might just possess the solution to a problem at hand. Charlotte’s coherence, though speedy, might not be able to count on out-of-the-box solutions.
Charlotte, like many cities, is pushing to build a new layer of leaders as the community searches for solutions to social-economic disparities and problems of immigration. Beyond Smart Cities shows that successful places find a way to address both issues together. They not only go hand-in-hand, they build on each other. Collective learning helps forge a cohesive leadership; tight leadership converts learning into innovation.
A next step for Charlotte might be to engage in a focused, collective learning exercise. Form a broad-based leadership group – composed of public, private, and civic leaders – and program a series of outbound missions in search for solutions to a few choice problems. In the learning process, Charlotte can progress in two ways: consolidating a new planning elite and moving forward on the frontier of knowledge.
 The reader should be aware that the graphics for the two cities may not be strictly comparable, since they may reflect differences in the composition of interviewees as much as the nature of the two cities.