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Mayors, MC Hammer Discuss “Culture of Innovation in Cities” at Technology and Innovation Task Force

By David W. Burns
January 28, 2013


To a packed room of 34 mayors and other guests on the first day of the 81st Winter Meeting, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee chaired the Technology and Innovation Task Force, focusing on the topic of “Creating a Culture of Innovation in Cities.” This meeting, the third ever for the task force, brought together mayors with other government officials, tech companies, and civic advocate and artist MC Hammer to discuss a wide range of issues.

The task force kicked off with an introduction by MC Hammer, an artist turned civic advocate, who spoke about the San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation, or “sf.citi” for short. This “technology chamber of commerce” acts as a resource to the city and advocates on behalf of the tech sector to find ways to make government more efficient and effective for all citizens.

“The marriage of technology for the good of the community is something near and dear to my heart,” said MC Hammer. “When information is in the cloud and on all these mobile platforms, the Mayors are the last mile solution,” referring to who’s capable of implementing innovation and technology in government.

From there, the discussion took off. One of the pillars of the discussion focused on the “Sharing Economy,” the notion that we can tap into existing resources and share them rather than create new ones. Focusing on this were Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and District of Columbia City Administrator Allen Lew.

“Average power drill in the United States is used 13 minutes in its lifetime, yet there are 80 million power drills out there. We think this is a metaphor for the sharing economy,” said Chesky. “Anything you aren’t using can be shared and used by someone else. Trust has limited this in the past, but with the internet, you can now have a reputation and share with other people.”

Chesky cited examples of car sharing (such as Zipcar and Car2go) and home or room sharing, mostly for vacations (such as Airbnb and Home Away) as opportunities for sharing in cities today and in the future. Economic activity is generated by using these these products at times when they aren’t normally used, making usage of homes and cars more efficient.

Closing the sharing economy topic was Lew who shared the story of the District of Columbia where his team is working on “digital dispatch” of cars and taxis, a contemporary twist to one of the most common and long-standing sharing services.

After the discussion on the sharing economy, Conference of Mayors President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter addressed the task force and announced the Mayors Innovation Summit, a three-day meeting taking place in Philadelphia May 22-24 where social media, civic innovation, open data, and open government will be the focus. Mayors were invited by Nutter to share their ideas of what they’d like to see at the summit.

Later in the task force, Lee introduced Yelp, a new member of the Mayors Business Council. Together, they’ve worked on the open data project “Local Inspector Value-entry Specification.” This is a way for local-based web sites, such as Yelp to use city data on restaurant health inspections and make them easier to find by placing them in places such as review pages.

“One of the things we do is give consumers information to make good decisions, which is primarily user generated” said Yelp Public Policy Vice President Vince Sollitto. “One of the things Mayor Lee has helped championed is this open data standard which means, how can we as a partner to disseminate this information which isn’t as accessible as it should be.”

This open data specification is something any city or county can model their data on so any developer, can make this information accessible to citizens and consumers.

Lee also talked about one of the task force’s first initiatives, the Open Government Innovation Partnership action plan, which received an update. San Francisco and Lousiville had completed their plans, which are now available on the task force’s web site. “We announced this Open Government Innovation Partnership pledge as a way to drive action through private public partnerships and through policy,” said Lee. “This transparent approach of interacting with our citizens and that should change the way we do government and the way it operates. We want to commend the cities that have signed this pledge and encourage others to sign up.”

The Technology and Innovation Task Force was launched one year ago at the 80th Winter Meeting in 2011. More information on the task force can be found at its web site, usmayors.org/innovation.