Mayors Report Innovation Challenges at City Innovate Summit

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San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee

San Francisco jump-started its inaugural City Innovate Summit on June 17 with an international group of mayors and city officials showcasing their latest initiatives and strategies to solve vexing civic challenges.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee laid the groundwork for the two-day event with an introduction emphasizing city innovation achievements, the need for collaboration and a call for fellow mayors to leverage their cities as platforms for entrepreneurial and innovative works.

“Cities today are the engines of the greatest surge in innovation, creativity and problem solving in human history … and cities that think of themselves as platforms will become stronger, attract better talent and become smarter from the bottom up,” he said.

In his remarks, Lee highlighted San Francisco’s innovation advancements, pointing to a six-year open data initiative, its citizen-backed maker movement and key partnerships with locally based civic tech accelerators like Code for America and Tumml.

Yet, the larger vision — and the impetus for the summit — Lee noted, called for an amplified effort that requires a network of communication between boundaries and jurisdictions. “In order to make great and livable and thriving cities we have to think and work collaboratively,” he said.

Such collaboration manifested itself throughout day one of the event with shared insights on city challenges, and what projects and tactics are being leveraged to answer them. Here are a few of the highlights.

Aging Populations

As with the U.S., Japan is also working to answer the pressing health and economic needs of the aging baby boomer generation. Soichiro Takashima, mayor of Fukuoka, said his city is eagerly engaged in a campaign to innovate around solutions that will support an elderly population.

“A great aging society along with a declining birth rate is a great concern of Japanese society,” Takashima said, explaining that because of low birth rates there will be an imbalance between tax revenue generation and service consumption. In 1995 one in 6.5 residents was older than 65; in 2025 the ratio in the city will be one in four. To solve the problem, he said his city hopes to use health monitoring apps — such as within the Internet of Things realm — and preventive care checkups for seniors to ease these burdens along with support from other jurisdictions and the younger generation.

In Kobe, Mayor Kizō Hisamoto said his city is innovating to harness the demand for health-care services and has invested in its biomedical sector. As examples, Hisamoto said the city is developing a supercomputer for use by researchers and entrepreneurs and has pioneered stem cell procedures to repair damaged retinas.

Energy and Waste

In the Philippines, Quezon Mayor Herbert Bautista said the densely populated city of 3.1 million residents has always struggled in the areas of energy consumption and waste management. Using new technology that burns waste and converts it into energy, Bautista said Quezon intends to turn consumption into a productive enterprise. While not new, the waste management plant will be a boon for city resources if necessary air quality approvals are secured. As it stands now, the city produces roughly 2,700 metric tons of waste per day.

Infrastructure

Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif., tag-teamed in the area of infrastructure innovation. Director of Strategic Partnerships and Innovation Khanh Russo said the city’s 11-mile North San Jose Transportation Innovation Zone continues to support development projects for technologies such as autonomous vehicles and provides access to roughly 21 traffic signals, 670 streetlights, a bus yard and light rail lines for testing purposes.

Trumpeting a new development a long time in the making, Los Angeles Chief Innovation Technology Officer Peter Marx detailed Mayor Eric Garcetti’s latest directive to bring gigabit broadband into the region. “We have an issue where we would really like to have the Internet be accessible and available to everyone in the city,” Marx said.

To hit the ambitious mark, Los Angeles has harmonized department regulatory requirements and assets into a single uniform leasing agreement so broadband providers can be fast-tracked through permitting and approvals. An inventory of infrastructure assets was likewise conducted so the city and vendor will have a listing of potential places to install fiber optics. The RFP is scheduled for release on June 23.

“Our goal is frankly to lower the cost of broadband and to include a free tier of broadband to get everyone onto the Internet,” Marx said.

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