Sourcing Urban Innovations from the Bottom Up + from the Top Down

Empowering City Dwellers Through Open Source/Smart Apps

Innovative organizations — government agencies, companies and NGOs — are finding ways to tap into the collective knowledge of city dwellers to solve both the simple and the seemingly intractable urban problems (monitoring traffic, tracking and reducing pollution, finding pot holes, etc.). At the end of the day, it’s the city dwellers that know the exact locations and extent of the problems facing their cities. City governments are employing these new technologies to outsource costly data gathering and, in the process, are engaging the public in ways that promote sustainability, smarter planning and action-oriented policy dialogue.

  • Moderator: Bill Shutkin, President, Presidio Graduate School; former Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute and Lecturer at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law
  • Ben Berkowitz, CEO and Co-Founder,
  • Ron Littlefield, Mayor, Chattanooga
  • John F. Williams, II, Senior Vice President, HDR Engineering Inc.


Bill Shutkin

Well, Gordon. Thank you so much for the introductions, including the introduction about next year’s conference. We’re delighted to be working with Gordon and partners on planning the 2012 Meeting of the Minds. Thanks to all of you for hanging out for this session at the tail end.

I’m Bill Shutkin, as Gordon mentioned, President and CEO of the Presidio Graduate School, really the first in leading graduate schools focused exclusively on sustainable management. We offer MBA, MPA, and Execute ED in sustainability and are seriously considering adding a smart city research capability to our school’s graduate agenda. So we look forward to working with many of you on that development process.

As Gordon noted, and here’s John, this is a panel to discuss sourcing urban innovation from the ground up and the top down ñ a bit of a mouthful. But I’m going to try to quickly reframe the subject matter and will be asking the panel as to address it in this way for the next 45 minutes or so. We’re going to try to finish up at noon, having been compressed just a little bit.

And the reframe is to suggest that the subject matter for this panel is really what I would call the mind/body problem for cities ñ the mind/body problem. Think about cities as it once embodied material and physical, and simultaneously, cities as cerebral, as cognitive, or at least as aspiring to possess cognitive capabilities. And the problem is this, we’ve become very proficient, I would argue, at engineering our cities for smartness, for the kinds of capabilities and performance that we’ve been talking about here. But we are arguably less capable at the other side; the neurology of our cities is still very much under development, and that neurology is essentially the collective intelligence through which, or by which, we manage and control the tools and gadgets that so many of us are excited about, and rightly so, in terms of the future of our cities.

My favorite contemporary historian and cultural critic, Jill Lapore ñ how many of you know Jill Lapore’s writing? Anybody here? Bancroft winning historian, novelist, teaches at Harvard and writes for the New Yorker ñ had said this about technology and the human mind. Technology can be sublime, but machines aren’t something that happens to us. There’s something we make. That is, they’re less like meteors that come crashing into our planet than like toddlers. Sure, they crash into you a lot and change your life, but they didn’t come out of nowhere, and if you set your mind to it, you can teach them manners before they become bigger than you.”

ITICT is both a tool to be managed and a tool for managing, simultaneously. It’s a tool for expressing our desires and aspirations and our wants, a way of managing cities for smartness. “Cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am a city is the new maxim that planners and builders alike, I think, are shooting for. So how can we best use IT to think and act collectively so as to operate our city better, smarter, more sustainably. How do we best manage technology to optimize environmental performance and the quality of life for our cities, and how do we better align the mind and the body of our cities? The physical and the cognitive, so as to achieve the practices, the behaviors, the policy that will really guide us forward in a way that tools on their own cannot.

We have three panelists who are really at the forefront of the neurology, if you will, of cities ñ the neuroscience of city building. And let me quickly introduce them.

I’m going to ask them to keep their remarks to roughly eight minutes, given the time, and try to leave as much time as possible for your intelligence to be brought to bear on the conversation.

We’ll start to my left, speaker’s left, with Ben Burkowitz, who is the CEO and co-founder of Try saying that ten times fast or even five.

To Ben’s right is the Mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Ron Littlefield, and those of you who read Outside magazine, used to be published here in Boulder now out of Santa Fe, will know that as of last week, Chattanooga is the country’s most perfect city ñ well ahead of Boulder, Portland, Seattle and many others for its quality of life and in particular its outdoor and environmental amenities. So congratulations. They are also, of course, home to the first hundred Ex-Broadband capability in the country. So the Mayor has a lot to say.

And then, to the Mayor’s right, John Williams, who’s a Senior Vice President and many other things, also a PhD for community planning and design at HDR, a leading sustainability consulting firm. John works out of New York, but based in Nebraska. Is that correct? Yes, and working with Chattanooga.

We’ll start then, Ben, with you, 8 to 10 and go through and them some questions. Thanks.

Ben Berkowitz

I guess Iëm the bottom up of this conversation, which we’re fine with. I’m going to give you a little history on SeeClickFix – where it came from, why it exists, and I think also why it spread so far.

I am standing in my backyard in New Haven, Connecticut about three and a half years ago, and my dog is barking at the wall on my neighbor’s building beacuse there is this terribly ugly piece of graffiti, not banksy or Shepard Fairey or any of the great artists of our day. I would appreciate them coming to my house. If they’re listening, please do. But something that really needed to be removed and was a blight on our community, and of course the first thing I did was I went and talked to my neighbor about removing it. He doesn’t like me, and he didn’t want to remove it.

The next thing I did, what I thought was the logical thing to do at the time, was call City Hall. Three years ago, I think in most City Halls, there was noÖthe idea 3-11 had been born in New York City for customer service for government, but they’re really in small towns like New Haven. There was no web portal for connecting with the city. So I’m calling City Hall. I’m trying to find out who removes graffiti, and I find that the Livable City’s initiative does. I leave about five voicemails, and I don’t get much of a response. At some point while leaving one of these voicemails and waiting on hold, I had this thought that I bet my neighbors have reported the exact same thing. I have no way of knowing that. I have no way of supporting them. It would be really great if this was publicly documented. So I bounced this off my now co-founders, and I said what if we create a web platform where you can publicly document these issues.

One of my co-founders had seen FixMyStreet in the UK. We took a look at that and decided that it wasn’t scalable at that point. So we sat down on a Sunday, and we built a little map and about four hours where you can click on a Google Map and post a problem like a pothole, or a graffiti, or a streetlight that was out. Then we took it to our friends at Sunday dinner, and low and behold, they had a lot of these issues as well, so they tested it out. We decided it was a good idea.

We spent about three months launching it, and in those three months, we built probably the most disruptive piece of the technology. It wasn’t just that we were allowing people to publicly document their concerns, but we created a way for those concerns to be directly delivered to their local governments. We created what you call Watch Areas. These are free formed geographically boundaries drawn on a map. And when initiatives reported in the Watch Area, an email was sent to a local government.

We spent about a year doing this nights and weekends, reaching out to people, and I had this Google alert for the word ‘pothole’ that we found likeminded people who wanted to talk about potholes.

The Boston Globe started talking about potholes, and when the Boston Glove talks about potholes people do listen. They had created a Google map of their own to document potholes. I called them, I said, “We can do better than that because we can alert governments, and we can make this easier and user-friendly.” They said great. Within a week, we’re on and we realized that we had a business model. So now, we’re embedded in about 900 local news sites, who are all connecting citizens to their governments all over the country, even somewhat internationally. And that spread really quickly, and of course, we got government’s attention at the same time.

Three years ago, there was not really an open government movement. I think I probably had a lot of enemies in City Hall. But that’s all changed really quickly as the people in government, who saw that customer service was important, either got elected or suddenly were getting the microphones in City Hall. We ended up building a suite of products for governments to help them manage social customer service through SeeClickFix, and we have a set of tools that actually allows citizens to report through SeeClickFix and generate work orders inside the city’s exact existing business process.

It’s been an incredible experience to be in a place of such disruption and in a place of real partnership, where the end result is greatly increased civic, space, and a place for people to participate. We joke around because, of course we’ve created a tool that’s allowed hundreds of thousands of these issues to be documented and about 55 percent of them to be fixed. We haven’t just created a megaphone for complaining; we really believe that potholes are the gateway drug to civic engagement.

The reason we say that is because we see all these people that come through the Boston Globe and their local news sites. They’re frustrated; they’re upset. They’re like I was, or my dog was when we’re looking at this bad graffiti. We want a place to vent, but we don’t expect a feedback loop for resolution. SeeClickFix allows the feedback loop for resolution; social media tools allow that loop for resolution. We see that when governments and others who can solve these problems come on board and resolve these issues or explain why the issues are unresolvable for lack of tax dollars or the ability to pave a road. That can really encourage people to do other things, and some of those other things include planting trees, helping to design public spaces. We have people who have done Google sketch-up videos of what a bike land would look like going down Elm Street in New Haven. We have people who are helping to distribute information about storms.

I’ll give one example, I think most recently this kind of all came together – this partnership between citizen, media, and government – on this open platform with Hurricane Irene, and we had the State of Maryland using the tool and the emergency management services to get extra data from citizens on things that were wrong and enabling citizens to talk to each other about how they might be able to help each other. We had cities like Richmond, [inaudible 13:00], and New Haven who are all using the same platform, and we have all the media, a ton of media properties up and down the East Coast, from the Washington Post to, all broadcasting this information real-time.

And so we have everything from people reporting that their power’s out on their mobile application when they can’t use the web in their home, to after the storm someone reporting that they found a lost cat, which they’ve named Irene. They believe that because of the storm and all this connectivity is, of course, making communities stronger. I have a few slides here. I’m just going to show the platform. Where do I click? Is this it?

We understand this. People report issues, and when they go to SeeClickFix, they’re distributed out to government utilities and everyone in the communities that can help solve a problem.

This is what our site looks like. I can see a number of publicly documented issues mapped. People can vote up issues to help governments and others prioritize them.

This is one of our government features we’ve developed based on feedback from our government partners. It’s a dashboard; it’s a light CRM for tracking and acknowledging these issues. Governments can purchase this from us for as low as $100 a month compared to a niche [inaudible 14:26] the federal CTO goes around with a slide that says New York City’s 311 costs $50 million a year, and this costs $1200. I think they’re doing a few more things, but we’re not really sure.

This is a mobile application we built. You can take a photo of a problem, get the GPS location, and it’s public and documented, and submitted to the government. And that’s SeeClickFix. Thanks.

Ron Littlefield

Well I’ve prepared two PowerPoint presentations, and I’m not going to use either of those. Instead, I’m going to challenge you to use your imaginations, so I’m going to blast through about 250 years of history in eight minutes. Feel free to close your eyes and just envision what I’m going to be talking about. Having said that, if you doze off, I’ll think they’re not really sleeping; they’re just listening intently and paying attention.

Chattanooga is not a unique city. It’s a city in a bowl. Now, we’re sitting in a city in a bowl, and if you go around the world you’ll find a lot of cities in a bowl, or on a harbor, on a river, on some kind of water because water is the way commerce was done way back when in the beginning. Chattanooga was one of those cities, who have a beautiful downtown, if I can show you this slide. Bisected by beautiful river now, but it wasn’t always that way.

It started as a trading post. It was Indian Territory ñ Native Americans, Cherokees, Creeks, and all of that. But soon after the trading post industry came – now this is a little unique – in the South, most cities relate to agriculture or if it’s industry, it’s textiles or whatever. In Chattanooga, it was hot metals. It was an unusual city; a rustbelt city in the South, some have called it. Not your normal Southern community.

As you fast forward through slides of the city’s progression from the time that it started, the smoke stacks are gathering. You see more and more smoke stacks on the maps and the drawings, and ultimately the photographs of the early city of Chattanooga because everyone was very proud of those smoke stacks. You know, that meant industry; that meant prosperity.

Then came rail, that other channel of commerce. Chattanooga’s famous for that ñ “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”. And during the heyday of the rail era, we were a rail hedge just like Atlanta, a city not unlike it at that time – crossroads of major rail. And during the time of steam engines, of course, that just added more smoke.

Then roads – we were already a crossroad of the U.S. highway system and as the Interstates were built, Chattanooga became and crossroads of the interstate system as well. Through the 1950s and 60s, our prominence as a heavy industrial town continued.

Then in 1969, and I said all that to lead up to this, we were characterized by Walter Cronkite on his evening news when he announced that the dirtiest city in America was in fact Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1969, below 40 years ago – a real wakeup call for our city or any city.

In this conference, we’ve talked a lot about carbon footprint, and ours was a city, and I was there at the time; I had just gotten out of college and moved to Chattanooga in 1968. We had a carbon footprint that you could actually see. Sometimes you can taste it; you could smell it almost always, hot metal industries. And we have a famous picture, which we usually drop into all of our slide presentations that shows a car disappearing into a smog bank, a cloud, and it’s not retouched; it’s pretty dramatic, Chattanooga in 1969.

So in the 1970s, we began to clean up our act. We did that mechanically. The 1980s were critical to how Chattanooga changed; how it became a different culture. It was an old industrial city believed it couldn’t change, and we started to bring people together in groups not unlike this, and we would challenge them with things like in the mid-1980s, we would point out – now, looking at you here and talking at this time on this side of the millennium change, we don’t think about it so much. But in the mid 1980s, no one really believed that the year 2000 was coming. And so it would challenge people by saying, you know the year 2000 is sixteen years away, fifteen years away. Over the course of 26 weeks, we had 52 meetings with people, and we listened intently, and we wrote things down in their own words, and we captured their dreams and visions, and challenged them to think about our community in new and different ways. Now remember what I said about being a rail center, because it played a critical role in what Chattanooga has today, which is something very different and unique.

In the 1980s, companies went throughout the country and laid fiber, a new means of communication along the rail route. And so Chattanooga became a crossroad of that. The information super highway suddenly linked to our community to those big think tanks, Oakridge, Georgia Tech, Huntsville. But we didn’t know quite what to do with it.

In the 1990s, we reclaimed our riverfront. I have some beautiful before and after pictures. If you got your eyes closed, think about a city that was dark and grey and ugly and depressed and dilapidated, warehouses along the river. And then very quickly, a dramatic change – an aquarium, an audacious idea way back when we originally thought of it, new life, new vitality, children playing on the riverfront and all of that.

We had electric buses back in the 1990s. We were talking about electric buses yesterday, and I’m not talking about buses with catenaries. I’m talking about battery-powered buses because as an old polluted city, we were going to do something different. We had to do it in a very different fashion, to capture the future and where it’s going. Our buses now are getting old. It’s time for new technology, and one thing I’ve gained from this gathering is some glimpses of what that new technology might just be.

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a list of cities that were in compliance and out of compliance with the critical air pollution measurements. Chattanooga is not on that list, I’m proud to say. We are in compliance with everything.

Then came the smart grid. Our city’s own utility came to me and said, “You know, we can do this two ways. We can do it with the old technology with the old wires or whatever, or we can do it in the way the future will require with fiber to every home, to every business, 170,000 connections in a 600 square mile area that actually extends out beyond the city limits.”

And so, we decided to go for it. We did a business plan, and we decided and we learned that if we properly managed the electrical system, we could actually pay for that fiber to the home with that business plan, with that new innovation.

Then came the downturn in 2008. That sounds like a real downer, but it turned out well for us because they were looking for shovel-ready projects, and we had one that was already shoveling. We applied for it and received a $111 million grant that enabled us to move faster and get it in place and to serve those hard to serve neighborhoods and such, that would have been expensive to extend that technology to. So we moved fast.

And we built a system that is the fastest system in the United States. I was in a gathering in Denmark a week before last, and a man put a world map up. He was the speaker before me. He said, “You know, there are only a handful of communities in the world, over 100,000 population with access to gigabit connectivity.” Some of you technical people understand that better than I do. I’m a city planner, by that ground. I don’t think in gigabits. I think in yards, and setbacks, and zoning.

But I was very proud of the fact that there were a half a dozen or so in Europe, a couple in Asia and so forth, and one dot in the United States, and that was Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Well that’s not enough. We have to have a wireless system on top of that, and they’ve skipped through these two or three slides that we had here about the mesh system. A mesh, I am told, is a city-wide self-healing wireless system utilizing the fiber backbone connecting anything, anytime, anywhere. When we announced our new fast internet service, of course the naysayers said, “No one will ever need that. You don’t need that much speed.” The doctor and the audience raised their hands and said, “We do. We can use it. If we can launch an MRI on a high-definition screen at home, and we can actually advance our calls and we can serve our patients better, we can use it.” Of course, the scientists and engineers said, “We can use it”. And then as I was leaving the room, there were a group of disheveled looking young people, and I said, “You guys, what are you in?” They said, “Video.” I said, “Is this good news for you? And they said, “Oh, this is wonderful. We can ship stuff back and forth without having to compress it.” Not sure what that means, but it sounded good.

We’re using it for traffic control, for security cameras, for lighting, for laptop access, for fire and police, and so what’s next? I tell people it’s like a city that has discovered fire, and other cities are looking at us and thinking we can do something with that. So if you’re looking for the future, Chattanooga has transformed itself and we’ve done it by engaging our people way back in the 80s, empowering them, listening to them, and then jumping ahead with a great deal of audacity sometimes, but with confidence that the future is where the city needs to be. Thank you.

Bill Shutkin

Thank you so much, Mayor, and for also sticking to the time frame. How many of us had a Mayor actually do that? No wonder Chattanooga’s way ahead, so thank you.

Next is John, and then we’ll open up for questions.

John F. Williams,II

I want to begin by saying that this conference, Meeting of the Minds, has made me much smarter already, and I just got here last night because I got promoted to a PhD, just by coming here. Well it’s not me, but I’ll take it. Thank you for that.

Bill, you made the reference to the mind and the body, and I represent the architecture, engineering, and planning industry, and I describe us as the neck, or the spine that connects those two areas of your physical body, and it’s the architects and engineers who often work with those apps that we’re talking about, to actually make things happen in a community.

So what I’m going to talk about over the next just couple minutes is data-driven approach, to better informing city dwellers to be part of their community, to be part of their community development process. Until recently, until we had access to this data like your providing Ben, a lot public policy was set based on anecdote rather than fact and hard data, and now these apps are giving us the ability to create visions and do planning around hard facts and performance data that will give us the ability to make much better decisions going forward.

I have this little graphic here, and it describes sort of a normal economic development community redevelopment process often begins with visioning and with the benefit of these apps, we plan to precede that process by gathering critical data. It used to be that we would gather data that would tell us a bit about land use, and about traffic flow, and perhaps energy and water and things like that, but now we want data that tells us about crime, and tells us about lighting, and tells us about aesthetics and where people want to be, and where they want to go to school, and how their lives actually operate. We want data that tells us when you’re in the room or not. And there are such data right now and we’re tapping it in Chattanooga as well as other places.

So this data’s going to inform our decision-making, our visioning process, and that’ll give us much better plans. Just imagine that plans based on the facts rather than just guesses or what the TV is saying today.

I want to hold up an example, and I hope that you folks are interested in this. I have 25 of these. They weigh ten pounds altogether, and I don’t want to carry them back. But this actually comes back from the City of Chattanooga. It’s called a Visioning Document Chattanooga Strategies for Smarter Sustainability. The latest round of activity in Chattanooga is recognizing that performance data can make our city, not only more sustainable, but more competitive in the global marketplace. We decided that we want to invite the best and the brightest from around the world to come to Chattanooga and use it as a laboratory. It’s already smart; it’s got a great reputation and brand. Come to Chattanooga and bring a proof of concept with you – something that will make us even smarter or more competitive, something that will save us energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and give us a better community to live in. So over the course of the last several months, more than a dozen world-class companies came to Chattanooga with their concept and this little booklet basically describes that approach and how we’ve taken those concepts and packaged them into six bundles. Those bundles over the next several months will move into further detailed discussion, and hopefully letters of commitment by the end of this year. If you’re interested, I’ve got them with me and I’d be happy to share them with you.

Now, once we have those concepts, it’s not good enough to have an interesting or a sexy plan. It’s time to do some hard assessment. After all, money is not growing on trees and communities, more than ever, have to make sure they’re getting the greatest bang for the buck. And so, in the way we would use a data-driven approach is we would say ñ by the way, I spoke just a few moments ago; I talked a little bit about this site. I want to take every vision and turn it into a sustainable business plan. I want to know how the elements of that vision are going to use the communities’ resources to create jobs. And don’t just tell me it’s going to produce five jobs. I want to know how many will be direct, how many will be indirect, how many will be induced, what are they going to pay, where are they going to be located, and how long are they going to last. I want that to be part of the business case.

I also want that business case to include a monetary projection as to what the social environmental and economic costs and benefits will be for that particular project. I want to know what the odds of realizing those benefits are actually going to be because this is an important point when you generally write a business plan, 99.9 percent of them concentrate only on the direct cash benefits of the undertaking.

Well, when you’re a community or if you’re a community using state or federal dollars, you’re doing things for the public goods. So, direct cash and noncash matter. Things like energy saved, waste avoided, water avoided, community health and productivity, those types of things are noncash benefits that can accrue to the community. That should be in the business plan in dollar terms and probabilities of outcomes, as should the criteria contaminants and greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re using federal dollars, they matter in terms of public policy. Let’s quantify the value of those things, put that in the plan.

And then lastly, let’s talk about the resilience. Now, one speaker earlier, TJ actually mentioned, he’s going to make decisions or the State of Colorado is going to make investment decisions based on jobs, security, the environment and costs. Well resilience is part of security; extreme weather advance have heat Chattanooga mighty hard this year. No one ever imagined how they would hit that city. Well, let’s talk about if you’re making investments in a new water treatment plant; let’s talk about how resilient it will be when that tornado comes through town. All those things should be part of the assessment and part of that apps-driven data-driven process.

Ultimately, you’re going to get implementation and you’re going to have to choose. Which project do you move forward with? Every community has a whole truckload of projects. Which ones do you go forward with? Well, you go forward with the projects that deliver the greatest, sustainable return on investment, direct cash, the triple bottom line, jobs and resilience.

And then, finally, monitoring, I think is going to be more important than ever, because people want to know not only what you did with their money, but how did that work out? You make claims about jobs or the environment or dollars. Tell me how you’re going to monitor performance. So this app and data-driven process will create a database or a platform against which you can measure your progress and report out to the community the results that you produce in exchange for their dollars.

To just conclude, again I’ll go back to TJ’s point, and I made it even earlier today, If you’re a community, certainly a community, be prepared to make a business case. It is the only way that you’re going to compete for resources and when, and it’s not good enough just to talk about cash. You have to talk about the other things, and this is why. There are series of events that are already occurring beginning with competitive grant programs that look across that spectrum of benefits. So right off the bat – number one, if you want to compete and when, you’ve got to master that into the business case.

This week in New York City, the AFL CIO and the American Federation of Teachers, and I’m just about finished Bill, announced a plan to route $10 billion of pension fund monies into infrastructure projects that produce these kinds of benefits. Well, that $10 billion is pretty good. There’s only a trillion dollars worth of demand. How are they going to sort through a trillion dollars worth of opportunities? They’re going to look at the case. The emergence of ibanks; they’re going to look at the case. All sorts of areas like this are going to reinforce this point mighty fast, so thank goodness we have access to this data and these apps, and we’ve got people in this room who are going to help us make it an even richer, more robust use of those materials. In the end, the Mayor of the city is going to do a better job of spending money there, but they’re also going to be more competitive and they’re going to be players in the global marketplaces and results. Thank you very much.

Bill Shutkin

Thanks John. Let’s open the floor for questions. I’d like to start and see the question with proposition to the Mayor, which is, in the age of diminished, if not, bankrupted public treasuries, you’ve made the case that there’s still much work to be done, including leveraging federal or other monies. To what extent a) has your investment in broadband and technology begun to produce ROI cost savings and secondly, who do you look to as a city in this country or around the world as your prime competitors now in this sort of new race to the top? Who are you learning from the most?”

I’d love for the audience to participate. We’ve got a mic, and let’s generate some dialogue.

Ron Littlefield

First of all, what we have created is a platform for solving problems and for being far more efficient. I mean, clearly we can use things like SeeClickFix for doing the necessary services for providing the response to complaint calls and such, which is very important.

Bill Shutkin

Are you using SeeClickFix?

Ron Littlefield

We’re talking with them right now. This is new technology. We’ve had a 311 reporting system since for nearly a decade, and actually back in the 1980s, we started a computerized system before anybody was really doing that. So we’ve been working on this for a long time.

But what we have with the fiber as the backbone and the mesh that we’re just beginning to build out is the ability to do a lot of very interesting and intricate things that there’s not sufficient time for us to really talk about. I mean, police and fire use of that system to be able to download information if you’re entering a fire, to be able to retrieve the plans of the buildings that you’re going into. And police situations, we’re right out here very close to Columbine, where that tragic school situation occurred some years ago.

So now, we have the ability to build out our schools with cameras in rooms and places in schools, and policemen can access by laptop in real-time and know exactly what they’re going into.

They’re going to talk about lighting after this. We have a part where we have been experiencing flash mobs, if anyone knows what that is. That used to be a fun thing where people would tweet each other and they would all show up and have a spontaneous dance or song or whatever. Well the criminal element learned that you can do the same thing and you can overwhelm a department store, or you can take over a park.

We now have the ability to basically go online, the policemen can, and we have refitted our parts and parts of our public spaces, particularly in the downtown area with state-of-the-art lighting, LEDs, and other types of high efficiency lighting. But it’s just a like a rheostat. We can keep the lighting level low for those times when we want it low, or the police can go in and they can wrap it up basically to daylight quality very quickly.

We’re doing a lot of the regular mundane things, but we’re experimenting with a lot of new things, and what we have is a platform that’s unmatched. Who do we look to? Basically, anytime you think you’re leading, you’re looking over your shoulder and who’s coming behind you. We know we have a short period of time when we’re going to be in this leadership position.

We look to Silicon Valley. We look to all of those high-tech areas. And they are little pockets of smaller communities that have high-speed internet. We’re looking to see how quickly that spreads and is adopted by other communities.

Bill Shutkin

And it doesn’t hurt when you have a sustainability director named Davy CrocketÖ

Ron Littlefield

Right yeah. I’m not sure. He says thatÖ we’re still researching.

Bill Shutkin

Great. Sir, if you can introduce yourself and pose the question.


I’ve got a question for the Mayor. About a year ago, I was speaking with the director of your arts alliance, talking about – this is a group that brought together artists for a lot of inner-city revitalization ñ and she brought up two points that really stuck in mind about some of the dynamics of how you translated planning into actual on-the-ground things. I wondered if you can elaborate on them.

One, she said that a lot of this went back to simply creating a list of things to do in a community and taking them down one at a time and getting things done, that the community learned how to get stuff done together. A lot of this was just plain old working together and having a list to work off of.

In the second thing that she said about her own organization, it was pretty intriguing to me, and I haven’t encountered this elsewhere, is that to land urgency to her own organization which was funded by some foundation, that instead of going to Bricks and Mortar and getting established and ramping up and having a membership, that they had a countdown clock that they were going to go out of date by, and that every day she woke up and thought about how many more days she had to get something done. This struck me as kind of a marvelous way to add urgency to this situation. I wondered if you could comment on your own experience with this.

Ron Littlefield

We’ve had a series of organizations that had a deadline like that. The one you’re talking about is set to expire, and they’re planning to go out in grand fashion, they’re calling it supernova. So that to me is good because organizations tend to hang around sometimes and try to find new things to do and they lose their effectiveness.

We use creativity and the thing that we really do, and it sounds like common sense, but we learned that if you engage the public, if you have public meetings and you listen intently to people and you write things down fully transparent while they’re watching in their own words, that they give it more credibility if you don’t try to change or twist or spin what they’re saying. Then come out with a very simple summary, and there are ways to do that without violating the sanctity of the process, if you will. People tend to support that, which they helped to create.

So then you just engage people in picking off those items and we did this 25 to 30 years ago, and it built up a momentum, and we now, when we call a meeting on something like “what do we do about the library”, and we’re working on the library right now because there is a cultural institution everywhere that the digital age is changing dramatically. But it used to be if we’d call a public meeting, it was like when the highway department calls, when you get a handful of people and it was kind of a fixed process. But people now expect to be engaged and they expect the city to act on their recommendation. We have kept that, such that now when we have a meeting, we have hundreds of people turn out. It used to be that maybe we’d get about 50. Now hundreds come and get engaged. They go home and they tell their neighbors, their opinion leaders, and opinion leaders are like yeasts. It spreads throughout the community and it enables us to get things done, and it enables the city council to take tough stands on things.

And indeed it sounds like pollyannous kind of thinking, but it really, really works.

Bill Shutkin

And this is a question for the panel in general. John you had talked about data-driven approach to community planning and development. You’ve just now celebrated, Mayor, the engagement in your community. It sounds very informed, if not, enlightened. I don’t know about you, but I am still experiencing in many communities including this one, our dear city of Boulder, Colorado, what I would characterize as fact-free zones when it comes to discussions about important public matters, whether it’s economic development, real estate development, or the like. Are we really seeing as a result of technology, as a result of folks being able to participate and own their data, a transformation in the way we think and deliberate as collectives, or is what we’re seeing in Congress, the shouting matches, these echo chambers in conflict, still very much the norm at least as I’m seeing it?

John F. Williams,II

If I could take the first crack at that, like many people in this room, we use shred processes to gather a lot of information in a short amount of time. What we’ve done now is we’ve equipped those processes with a pretty big dose of data or data-generating capacity. We’ll talk about specific project from a social environmental or economic perspective.

Often there’ll be someone in the audience with a pet peeve. For instance, maybe an elderly person will hold up a certain type of plastic bottle and say, “Until you figure out a way to recycle this bottle, I’m going to pose this project forever and ever and ever”. And in the past, the consulting and planning teams and the staff would debate her, and they would go round and round about this plastic bottle, and it could go for months and months and it could burn up a lot of time and money.

Well, now we have the ability to say, “Well let’s take a look at that bottle, and what does it really mean in terms of water, and energy, and greenhouse gas and safety and these things.” We can run real-time analysis right in front of her or him and in front of that television camera, and we can say, “We see that that bottle doesn’t move the needle at all. But we’ve wasted a lot of time and money here, so do we want o keep doing this?” Or we might say that that bottle really could move the needle, so why are we pushing back so hard? Let’s make the decision and solve that problem and move on with it. Or we might see this doesn’t really cost anything to deal with that bottle, and we can just get the project going. But whatever it is, we see it real-time.

If their case doesn’t hold up, then they tend to shrink mighty rapidly, and go, “Wait we had another example, an airport runway project out of Western Canada. We spent five years fighting about this airport runway that was really critical to the local economy.” You can understand why you’d fight about that. But when we figured out how to run the analysis for the costs and benefits and risks etc. real-time in front of these audiences, we solved that problem like that, and there’s a runway there today and airplanes are taking off as we speak. You can take a cheap shot in a public meeting and get away with it, unless we can sort of check you, and then show everybody else what your favorite project really means to the community. It may mean something really great to sort through.

Ron Littlefield

We’re trying to move toward actual interactivity where people can actually work, I mean, communicate with us from their home who are already using the internet quite a bit. Innovation, such as this, is moving us really into the right direction very dramatically and very quickly.

But the world has changed over the last ten years. I’m the first Mayor to carry a blackberry or a Smartphone. Smartphones are evolving so quickly and the Smartphone apps are evolving so quickly.

I think the real challenge to communities now, and we’re fortunate in Chattanooga to have the platform, those basic fiber and the mesh system that will enable us to keep ahead, or at least keep up, with the technology and to keep up with bright minds like this, which you’re thinking of new ways of managing cities more efficient and more effective.

Ben Berkowitz

Yeah, I think Chattanooga is really interesting example. Liz Hanley, I don’t know if she’s a 311 director, but she’s one of the first people, probably two years ago, in city government who started receiving these emails and didn’t even think twice about publicly responding to them. It just made sense; someone was communicating with city government and she decided that she was going to communicate back. So we obviously really [inaudible 46:44] Liz and she’s using a free tool that’s giving more access to Chattanooga. Chattanooga, I also think, stands out in other ways. I’ve spoken with a number of people down there. I think you have the most inclusive visioning study. 20,000 people? Out of a population ofÖ

Ron Littlefield

170,000 in the city.

Ben Berkowitz

We started to see examples like Chattanooga that suddenly city governments initiatives were making an entire slot when we’re representing, which I think was surprising to people. I think no matter which side of the aisle you’re on, the open government partnership that was just announced by Barack Obama on Tuesday, something that SeeClickFix is part of, is absolutely amazing and a real testament to how the federal government is taking initiatives with open data and then listening to, not only citizens, but to their employees as to how to drive the efficiency.

I was at State Department when they announced in June. There were leaders from European countries and South American Countries and African countries who have only been a democracy for eight years, and it seems like everybody just gets that listening is the way forward.

Probably the best example I think that you’re going to see in the next year is what’s going to happen in Chicago. I have a feeling; I mean we saw it the day that Daly left office, all of the departments in Chicago started responding in SeeClickFix. It was like a veil had been lifted. And I have friends in the old administration; I have friends in the new administration. There’s always good people in government who want to do the right thing. I think Chicago will be a really good example of the veil of secrecy being lifted and what the future of local government will look like.

Bill Shutkin

Why don’t we do one more question if folks are willing?


Darren Densmore from Crowd Break ñ you got to work with William on a project in a data test to create digital shredder tool, so that we can actually do this in real-life meetings, make them much more efficient – about 300% more efficient – and in real-time live on the web at the same time at multiple locations. How do you find that the barrier and the challenges of running these in-person meetings and improving access at the same time?

Bill Shutkin

This is actually something that we’re going to be talking about in Meeting of the Minds with Bill because the next time we do this, we’re going to be changing the format, I suspect.

Thanks guys to our panel. Wonderful jobs. Great work being done. Thanks to all of you for hanging out.

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