Urban Innovation

CUI Newsletter, May 2019

May 30, 2019  • Center for Urban Innovation Newsletters

What we’re working on and talking about:

Lots of amazing recent resources and podcasts from CUI friends:

The Center for Economic Inclusion’s recently released Indicators of an Inclusive Regional Economy measures how the Minneapolis-St.Paul region’s economy fares in supporting people of color through key metrics in four categories: Inclusive Growth, Economic Development, Human Capital, and Transportation & Access. The indicators and complementary Dashboard are great guides for other regions looking to take a data-informed and inclusion-focused approach to economic development.

The Feedback City episode of Technopolis explores when government listening to residents online tips into something closer to surveillance and stalking.  

Aaron Renn & Sascha Haselmayer talk about procurement: Procurement seems opaque, but the rules are actually quite standardized, so “If you find a way of improving outcomes by 10, 20 or 30 percent, you’ve hacked a system that is incredibly scaleable.”

What we’re thinking about: 

We’re always thinking about procurement, and now we want to know what YOU think.  Will you take and share our survey and let us know your ideas about how city governments can increase the number of “smart cities” or “civic tech” or “urban tech” procurements awarded to companies led by women and people of color?

And which places are doing this well?  By “smart cities”/ “civic tech”/ “urban tech,” we mean technologies or applications that address core aspects of city life or service delivery and that probably didn’t exist five or ten years ago.

Here’s why we want to know more about this issue: “Urban tech” will reshape how people experience city services and the public realm as a whole.  Technology reflects the experiences and priorities of its makers. The people shaping how people experience cities should be as diverse as residents themselves.

In the few years since the Center was founded, there has been a surge of interest in smart cities technology startups.  Technologists, accelerators, incubators, and venture capitalists have recognized that local governments are hungry for new solutions to city problems and represent huge market opportunities.  Startups are changing not just how governments relate to and communicate with residents, but also how governments monitor and build water, energy, and transportation infrastructure.  New intermediaries are helping broker relationships between city governments and local startups, so that startups can more easily navigate city regulations, create pilots, and find opportunities to test, refine and sell their products, and ultimately grow their companies.  Smart cities and urban tech advocates understand that city procurement rules are significant obstacles to startup growth, and many of them are committed to setting a new direction for city purchasing, one that is faster, more flexible, iterative, problem-focused, and better aligned with the needs of startup companies.

These efforts are important, but incomplete. They rarely, if ever, address whether smart cities procurement strategies support inclusive innovation and entrepreneurship by providing equitable access for companies founded by women and people of color.  This is a troubling oversight, given the abundantly documented lack of women and people of color in technology companies and tech startups generally, and the equally well documented challenges women and people of color have in securing funding for their technology startups.  As decades of experience in other industries shows, equity doesn’t happen without intentionality.  Without focused effort, the urban tech industry could leave out women and people of color who have valuable insights into urban problems and solutions.

Let’s build in and reinforce equity in the urban tech sector early on, using the powerful tool of procurement, so that governments, philanthropies, and others will not have to overcome decades of bad practice and accumulated barriers in the future.

Please help us by sharing your ideas and then sharing the survey with your networks!  We’ll let you know what we’re learning.

All best,

Jennifer