The Secret to a Healthier City: Sharing Data

To be effective and strategic in their decision-making, city leaders striving to build a culture of health need diverse, usable, high-quality data sources that are integrated, timely, relevant and geographically precise.

“In Cincinnati, partnerships, shared expertise, and data integration have helped us as we seek answers to complex problems. Indeed, I have come to learn that seeking consultation from a housing expert may prove just as valuable to my patients and families as would a consultation from a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.” - Dr. Andrew Beck, pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s

“In Cincinnati, partnerships, shared expertise, and data integration have helped us as we seek answers to complex problems. Indeed, I have come to learn that seeking consultation from a housing expert may prove just as valuable to my patients and families as would a consultation from a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.” – Dr. Andrew Beck, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

This post was co-authored by Peter Eckart, Alison Rein and Nick Wallace.

Data can be a powerful tool for understanding issues, making smarter decisions, and improving results – and city leaders can help build a culture of health by supporting the collection, access and use of data to establish programs and policies that improve both economic and population health through education, transportation, housing and other critical issues.

However, collecting and using data from multiple sources and sectors is challenging, and is often hampered by the organizational, cultural, and budgetary silos that pervade municipal government. Data collected by local hospitals, the department of health, and the Mayor’s office are not often shared with one another due to real or perceived legal restrictions, turf issues, and lack of capacity. While opening access to data and allowing it to be integrated with other data types and sources is not yet the norm for city leadership, a few cities have modeled the extraordinary benefits of such efforts.

Community Health Peer Learning Program (CHP) grantee, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, has embarked on an effort to identify “hot spots” where the incidence of disease, such as asthma, is especially high. Between 2009 and 2011, children from low-income areas in Hamilton County were 88 times more likely to be admitted into the hospital for emergency asthma treatment than children from high-income areas. Pinpointing the disparities at the neighborhood level has allowed the hospital to partner with the Cincinnati Health Department to more effectively link at-risk children to home inspectors that can help to identify the existence of potential health hazards. The hospital has also built a medical-legal partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati to pursue legal advocacy when dealing with noncompliant landlords. Thus, home hazards like lead, pests, and mold have been mitigated, new roofs have been installed on several buildings and new heating and air-conditioning units have been put in. The community also recently received a $29 million grant from HUD to accelerate the rehab in one at-risk neighborhood.

Dr. Andrew Beck, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s, notes, “Hospitals and social service agencies, public and private, seek to promote health and wellness among those they serve. We seek the same goal, but we generally work separately. In Cincinnati, partnerships, shared expertise, and data integration have helped us as we seek answers to complex problems. Indeed, I have come to learn that seeking consultation from a housing expert may prove just as valuable to my patients and families as would a consultation from a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.”

The example from Cincinnati makes it clear that leaders should be intentional about nurturing and encouraging a culture of data sharing across various organizations and sectors. Building these sometimes difficult but necessary data sharing relationships is core to All In: Data for Community Health, a nationwide learning collaborative that aims to help communities build capacity to address the social determinants of health through multi-sector data sharing. The two founding partners of All In, Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) and the CHP Program recently presented together on NLC’s Culture of Health Web Forum Series. The BUILD Health Challenge and the Colorado Health Foundation’s Connecting Communities and Care have also become partners in All In, which now collectively represents 50 local data sharing projects across the country.

Here are just a few lessons from the All In learning collaboration that may be useful to cities in the early stages of multi-sector data sharing:

  1. Relationships are critical to moving data integration forward: Sharing data is as much about relationships as it is about technology. Everything that we know about making collaborations work – developing a shared understanding of the problem, willingness to work together, building trust, communicating clearly, creating a shared governance – applies even more to data sharing partnerships.
  2. Effective data sharing is a considerable time investment, and requires laser-like focus on the problem statement: It can take several years to get people to the table, build meaningful relationships, learn how other sectors operate, and develop data sharing agreements. Creating an environment for data sharing that supports and sustains this commitment requires gaining buy-in from partners and key community stakeholders to ensure their dedication to the driving purpose and continued participation over the long haul.
  3. Data can be used both to identify and characterize city challenges, and to effectively target limited city resources: City officials often know they have an issue, but data are critical for determining scale and scope, and for understanding root causes. Similarly, once these challenges are better understood, interventions are often based on the knowledge that integrated data permits better targeting of city services (e.g., lead poisoning abatement, falls prevention, city planning), and more efficient use of scarce resources.

While there is no roadmap for this complex work of building multi-sector partnerships to share data, there are several resources available to city leaders who want to learn from others who have been down a similar path.

  • Thirty cities nationwide are engaged in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a peer network of open data intermediaries. The NNIP shares lessons from local partners to help strengthen capacity for data-driven decision-making.
  • Github is an open source hub that contains many technical tools for sharing data that can be adapted by others.
  • What Works Cities is a national initiative designed to accelerate cities’ use of data and evidence to improve results for their residents.
  • DASH’s Environmental Scan provides a nationwide snapshot of the current state of multi-sector data sharing initiatives for community health. AcademyHealth will soon release a scan of the national program offices supporting these initiatives.
  • The All In Data for Community Health learning collaborative regularly shares news and resources to help guide and advance the field of multi-sector data sharing for health. Sign up for the monthly newsletter to get updates.

Not sure where to access data? Check out some useful data tools for cities, including Community Commons, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, The National Equity Atlas, and the 500 Cities Project.

City leaders play a critical role in building lasting multi-sector partnerships that help unleash the full potential of local data. As city leaders innovate and experiment, it’s critical that they share their challenges and successes. If we are agile and open to learning from others, we can maximize data infrastructure investments to achieve greater collective impact.

About the authors:

peter_eckart_125x150Peter Eckart, M.A., is Co-Director of Data Across Sectors for Health at the Illinois Public Health Institute.

 

alison_rein_125x150Alison Rein, M.S., is Senior Director of the Community Health Peer Learning Program at AcademyHealth.

 

nick_wallace_125x150Nick Wallace is an Associate for Health and Wellness at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

New Year, New Technology, New (Smarter) Cities

Fully connected smart cities are coming. NLC’s latest report helps cities prepare for their arrival by providing local leaders with best practices in this arena.

As cities grapple with how to invest in smart city technologies, and how to ensure that their cities remain on the cutting edge of this technological revolution, there are several things they should consider. (Getty Images)

Technology is changing us – and our cities – in an unprecedented way. This is not news to most, and the influence of technological developments and advances certainly isn’t a new development. We’ve all likely reflected on the impact of the smartphone once or twice. However, over the last year, discussions about just how quickly technology has asserted control over our lives, our economies, and the places we call home have become more dominant, and sometimes, more anxiety inducing. If 2016 was the year we realized that autonomous vehicles are here and happening, 2017 might be the year we realize that this is about so much more than cars.

Indeed, technology is becoming the critical force that defines the way our cities are run, managed, and evolving. This has culminated in a movement often referred to as the ‘Smart Cities’ revolution. While cities are ever-changing with technology driving their evolution, today we are seeing it impact everything from the buildings we use, to the way we get around, to how we live, work, and play in the urban space.

Now, as we are on the cusp of increasingly rapid shifts in cities precipitated by technology, it is worth imagining what the fully connected smart city of the future will look like – and the associated impact it will have on our everyday lives. To that end, the National League of Cities (NLC) is pleased to release “Trends in Smart City Development,” which presents case studies and discusses how smart cities are growing nationwide and globally. Created with our partners at the American University Department of Public Administration and Policy, this guidebook is meant to be a resource for cities as they lead the way forward in this exciting and ever-evolving space.

Cities are beginning to, and will continue to integrate technological dynamism into municipal operations, from transportation to infrastructure repair and more. As the integration of smart cities technologies becomes more visible in our everyday lives, we could begin to see large scale changes in our cities.

Let’s imagine a future where autonomous vehicles on our roadways and the data that they provide change traffic patterns and mobility networks as we know them. Similarly, as we move toward greater usage of shared vehicles and trips, we might be able to move away from parking either below buildings or on streets, enabling cities to recapture that land for new uses and development. Energy sources could be completely renewable in the smart city of the future as well, with technology paving the way for better integration into our cities and thereby helping to create a cleaner environment for everyone. Smart energy systems will allow cities to collect information from sources such as smart water, electric, and gas meters.

At the same time, our future cities will be safer with streetlight networks that use embedded sensors to detect gunshots or flash their lights during emergencies. These are just some of the possibilities that loom on the horizon for cities, and more, improved applications are being developed daily.

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As cities grapple with how to invest in smart cities technology, and how to ensure that their cities remain on the cutting edge of this technological revolution, there are several things they should consider:

  • Rather than looking for solutions first, cities should consider the outcomes they want to achieve. They should find out what their residents and local businesses want to see happen, and turn those desires into clearly defined objectives before proceeding with smart initiatives. A city’s existing comprehensive, transportation, and sustainability planning documents can help guide the establishment of goals.
  • Partnerships may be the key to successfully deploying new smart cities systems. In an era when the first question is “how?” and the second question “how much?” cities need to get creative about how to deploy expensive, large scale projects like these. Partnerships provide many benefits to cities. They give cities access to funding and expertise that might not otherwise be available. Many public problems are complex and can be too diverse for any single organization to tackle. That makes collaboration advantageous, as cities and organizations are often able to do more together than they could alone.
  • Keep up with new developments and standards. The diversity in technology and the lack of agreed upon principles for redesigning the built environment presents a challenge for interested cities. The newness of smart development means that not much has been codified. Though this report provides a window into what some cities are doing now, smart development is a rapidly changing field. Cities interested in becoming smart should continue to look for best practices and frameworks for this type of development.

All of this is predicated on the premise that technologies can help make people’s lives better in cities. At the end of the day, technological developments will enhance our urban experience – but they also risk leaving more people behind. To this end, we must be deliberate in the development of smart cities and imbue equity as a primary goal so that the city of the future is a city for everyone.

Fully connected smart cities are coming, and NLC wants to help cities prepare for their arrival by providing local leaders with best practices in this arena. It is our hope that this report will spark conversation and action among local policymakers about how to incorporate these strategies into their own communities.

Read the full Smart City Development report.

Read the full Trends in Smart City Development report.

About the author: Nicole DuPuis is the Principal Associate for Urban Innovation in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicolemdupuis.

Research, Innovation and Cities: The Year in Review

Throughout 2016, NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences from San Francisco to Shanghai and everywhere in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard.

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography. www.jasondixson.com

NLC continues to shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help local officials lead. Pictured here at City Summit 2016 discussing the future of autonomous vehicles in cities: Jon Shieber, senior editor at TechCrunch; Debra Lam, chief innovation & performance officer of Pittsburgh; Justin Holmes, director of corporate communications and public policy at Zipcar; Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director of Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. (Jason Dixson)

This year has been one of growth and success for NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research (CSAR). Throughout 2016, we released impactful research across a range of focus areas – from the nuts and bolts of governing to future transportation and workforce shifts, innovation districts, and what cities need to know about drones.

We published familiar annual titles including our State of the Cities report, which analyzes the top issues for our nation’s mayors. We released the 31st edition of our City Fiscal Conditions report, which found that cities’ fiscal positions are strengthening as they continue to recover from the great recession. We finished out the year with our City of the Future research focusing on the critical role that automation and other disruptive changes are having on the workforce. At the core of each of these research products, our primary focus is analyzing how major, timely issues will impact cities.

Coinciding with our broad research agenda, CSAR experts have been on the ground in cities across the country working hand in hand with mayors, councilmembers, and city officials to build equitable, sustainable, financially sound communities that are prepared for future opportunities and challenges. And, in response to the growing opioid crisis, CSAR worked across NLC and together with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to convene the City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which recently published recommendations to help local officials to put an end to the epidemic.

Our Rose Center for Public Leadership continued its leading work on local land use challenges with the 2016 class of Daniel Rose Fellows. Those cities included Denver, Rochester, N.Y., Long Beach, Calif., and Birmingham, Ala. The Rose Center also launched the first-ever Equitable Economic Development Fellowship, selecting six cities to participate in its inaugural year: Boston, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Charlotte, N.C. This fellowship builds the capacity of America’s cities to ensure that prosperity is shared across their communities.

CSAR’s Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) launched new programs in 2016 that support and recognize NLC members’ efforts to preserve a clean environment, promote green jobs, and tackle climate change. The SolSmart program was launched in April to help cities make it easier for their residents and businesses to go solar. SCI also announced Leadership in Community Resilience, which is working with 10 cities from around the country to help local officials, city staff, and community partners share their experiences and advance local resilience efforts.

This year our team also incorporated NLC University into the Center, working to provide more focused programming and expanded capacity for city leaders. One example of this shift can be seen in this year’s City Summit attendance in Pittsburgh, where we had a 60 percent increase over last year. Additionally, with the hiring of new staff, we are looking to expand online learning and enhance the annual Leadership Summit.

NLC continues its work to end veteran homelessness, encouraging local leaders to make a permanent commitment to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. Through our leadership on the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, we facilitated on-the-ground engagement and assistance to city officials nationwide. We also continue to work together with the State Municipal Leagues on an annual research project focused on the critical intersections between city and state policy. This year we published Paying for Local Infrastructure in a new Era of Federalism, offering a state-by-state analysis of infrastructure financing tools.

CSAR also hosted a number of large events across the country. In the spring, we held the third annual Big Ideas for Cities event with a range of compelling stories from our nation’s mayors, expertly facilitated by the Atlantic’s James Fallows. In the fall we hosted the Big Ideas for Small Business Summit with economic development officials from 25 cities sharing strategies for building local small business and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Most recently, we hosted the second annual Resilient Cities Summit with the Urban Land Institute and U.S. Green Building Council, which brought together mayors from 15 cities across the country to focus on critical resilience strategies. These annual events allow NLC to elevate the voice of city leaders on issues that matter to communities across America.

Through our work on these important issues, we solidified partnerships with agencies across the federal government and worked with them on key programming, ensuring we are effectively communicating the voice of cities at every level. Some of these included: Small Business Administration for Startup in a Day, the Department of Veterans Affairs on veterans homelessness, the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the Prosperity Playbook, and Department of Energy on Net Zero Energy.

Throughout the year, our team presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences local, national, and global – from San Francisco to Shanghai and everything in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard. We continue to help shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help mayors and councilmembers learn and lead – and we look forward to our work in 2017.

Read our 2016 publications:

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.

 

Top 5 Most Popular NLC Blog Posts of 2016

This year saw a number of posts that reached thousands of readers and were shared widely on social media. Here are the top five, in no particular order.

7 Ways City Leaders Can Address Racial Inequities
City leaders must step up to take the lead with their police departments and community members to address racial inequities in their respective cities and towns.

10 Innovative Ways to Attract Millennials to Your City
Philadelphia is a city that has implemented a set of successful policies aimed at attracting and retaining talent in the last decade. During that same period, the city’s population grew by 100,000.

Four Bad Habits to Avoid at City Council Meetings
Learning these principles and avoiding these bad habits will improve your meetings — and your decision-making.

5 Ways Parks Provide a Return on Investment
Parks and public spaces are an integral part of the atmosphere and culture of a city or town. More than that, though, they have a massive positive financial impact – one that is generally overlooked.

5 Things Mayors Can Do to Create Healthier Communities
NLC’s new report, Addressing Health Disparities in Cities: Lessons from the Field, provides lessons learned and examples of actions that mayors and other city leaders are taking to intentionally address childhood obesity-related health disparities.

Paul Konz headshotAbout the author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

8 Ways Cities Can Prepare for the Future of Work

We know that automation and artificial intelligence will have a great impact on the future of work, play, and life – but we shouldn’t jump to the assumption that this will be a net negative.

(Getty Images)

Advocates from the tech world tout a basic income as a way to counteract the economic blow of automation replacing jobs currently occupied by humans. (Getty Images)

This post originally appeared on Business Insider. The post was republished with permission.

Fundamental shifts in society are upending the current nature of work. With automation and artificial intelligence already permeating nearly every sector of the economy, disruption is happening at an accelerated pace.

Our recent presidential election made clear that workforce shifts are felt by a broad swath of the American public. People are looking to elected officials at every level of government for a new response to these changes.

We have to move the policy discussion away from job retraining towards job rethinking.

NLC’s latest report, The Future of Work in Cities, examines the rapid changes occurring in today’s workforce. Here are eight suggestions from that report on how city leaders — the most responsive government leaders — can approach the rapidly shifting future of work.

Rethink education and workforce training programs.

The strength of cities comes from the people that live in them. As cities prepare for the future of work, they must address talent development by collaborating with business leaders, educational institutions, and community-based organizations to ensure education and training programs match workforce needs.

Update policies to reflect the changing composition of the workforce.

Tomorrow’s workforce will be significantly more diverse. Women will continue to make up a larger portion of the workforce, and the racial and ethnic makeup of the workforce will change. The workforce is also getting older, as many elderly workers delay retirement and younger people delay working. These changes shift the fundamental needs of employees and, subsequently, the way employers should respond. Flexibility will be critical.

Support entrepreneurs and startups as a core workforce development strategy.

Innovation is the lifeblood of city economic growth. Local leaders need to create a strong startup culture through low tax and regulatory barriers, and strong regional networks with access to capital that allow startups to scale. As cities continue to lower barriers of entry for small businesses and support local startups, innovation will flourish.

Build equitable business development programs.

Equity is critical to building a strong workforce. Policies that promote equity in areas such as health and education often have positive effects on economic growth. Likewise, policies that address marginalized groups reduce political conflict and strengthen public institutions and social organizations, feeding into a virtuous cycle of growth.

Invest in digital and physical infrastructure that supports the workforce of tomorrow.

Investment in reliable, high-speed internet and expanded broadband services is critical to supporting a competitive workforce. In addition to digital infrastructure, cities must also invest in roads, bridges and transit systems.

In cities, people like to walk, bike, and take public transit, while single occupancy vehicle use continues to decline. This preference, combined with a move toward autonomous vehicles, means that cities will need to rethink investment priorities while considering new uses for car-oriented infrastructure like parking garages.

Ensure access to paid leave for families.

The United States is one of few developed countries that doesn’t offer some type of guaranteed paid leave for new parents. Yet companies that offer these policies retain more employees and avoid lengthy talent searches. Cities are leading in this space. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, for example, mandates six weeks of paid parental leave for workers. This long overdue policy benefits everyone, giving parents the opportunity to maintain their careers, helping organizations retain employees, and bringing stability to the city’s workforce and economy.

Consider offering portable benefit systems.

As workers change jobs more frequently and contract work becomes more common, the policy environment around benefits needs to shift. Benefits that once accompanied most employment situations are becoming more elusive, and portable benefits, which are tied to individuals rather than employers, represent one potential solution.

These typically wrap together some form of paid leave, health insurance, worker’s compensation/unemployment, and retirement fund matching. Proposals for this type of system vary.

Some suggest that it should be universal and administered by government or a public/private institution created for such a purpose. Others think it should be administered by non-governmental community-based groups. Either way, portable benefits have the potential to support those who work outside the realm of the traditional nine-to-five economy.

Explore basic income and other broad-based social support systems.

Basic income, which guarantees every citizen a regular, unconditional sum of money, is gaining support in policy conversations. This is intended to serve the same function as a living wage by bringing all individuals up to an economic baseline. In some ways, this proposal resembles existing welfare systems, with the major exception that the benefit goes to everyone, regardless of age, ability, class status, or participation in the workforce.

Advocates from the tech world tout it as a way to counteract the economic blow of automation replacing jobs currently occupied by humans. Other supporters argue that basic income is more streamlined, efficient, and transparent than current social welfare systems. Finally, there are others who argue that a basic income might allow individuals to pursue more creative, enjoyable interests. A full-scale of examination of the cultural and financial implications of basic income will be key to implementing such a system.

We know that automation and artificial intelligence will have a great impact on the future of work, play, and life. However, we shouldn’t jump to the assumption that this will be a net negative.

Despite the evolving nature of the economy, people are still working, the economy is still growing, and indicators show that life has gotten better for the majority of the world’s workers. To stay on that path, these and other such ideas should be higher on the agenda of policymakers. Cities are the place where new ideas and opportunities happen first, so we should prepare for the technological shifts to come and usher in a future that works for everyone.

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.

What Cities Need to Know About the Booming eSports Industry

The world of professional, competitive video gaming is expanding at a rapid pace – and you might be surprised to learn that cities stand to benefit from its growth.

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Twitch streamers (professional competitive video gamers) gather at the White House for its first-ever competitive gaming event on Monday, December 12, 2016.

This post was co-authored by Angelina Panettieri and Courtney Bernard.

This week, more than 220,000 people tuned in to watch the first-ever White House eSports event on Twitch. For those not familiar with the video game industry, this event may prompt a few questions – namely, what are eSports and Twitch? Why is this a draw for so many people? And what could this mean for my community?

NLC staff were on-site for the event, and we’ve compiled the top things every city leader needs to know about the fast-growing industry set to generate $1 billion within the next few years.

eSports are everywhere – and the industry is expanding rapidly.

eSports – a term that refers to professional, competitive video gaming – are increasingly popular spectator events driving major investment and interest. Enthusiasts around the globe attend events in person or stream content with online platforms like Twitch, which has nearly 10 million daily active users. Spectators watch gamers play everything from multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games to strategy games.

Currently, 14 percent of Americans follow eSports. To put that into perspective, eSports spectators actually outnumber those watching the World Series or NBA Finals. And while there are hundreds of millions of people across the country that already watch eSports, even more are playing video games – 49 percent of American adults, to be exact.

The rising popularity of video games and eSports is driving major consumer brands like Coca-Cola, ESPN and American Express to invest in the industry. As the competitive gaming industry continues to evolve, analysts expect audience and revenue growth to accelerate rapidly.

eSports events could drive tourism for cities.

The widespread appeal of eSports make events and tournaments a potentially major draw for tourism, both here at home and abroad. eSports events are selling out stadiums, convention centers and other large venues around the globe. In 2015, there were 112 major eSports events, and they generated $20.6 million in ticket revenues.

In the United States, these events have become a major draw for tourism in cities like Los Angeles and New York. The projected growth trend for eSports suggests that many other cities can leverage the phenomenon to boost tourism and engage members of the community.

The eSports boom has already drawn the attention of traditional sports team owners and franchises. For example, Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber and Washington Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis recently joined forces to acquire eSports franchise Team Liquid, and the Philadelphia 76ers purchased two eSports teams as well. Partnerships and acquisitions like these could lead to huge opportunities for local eSports expansion.

eSports enthusiasts in your city need robust broadband infrastructure.

In order to leverage this booming new industry, cities need to ensure their broadband infrastructure is up to snuff. While a number of federal programs have targeted the homework gap and the need for students to have access to broadband both at school and at home, cities should not ignore a similar recreation gap for entertainment streaming services. City residents increasingly expect access to broadband at home, whether they use it for work or play. A 2015 study found that a fiber optic internet connection increases the value of a home by as much as an additional fireplace or half-bath.

Online gaming and streaming activities are driving the need for reliable, low-latency broadband service in the home. While broadband infrastructure continues to expand, the percentage of Americans choosing to purchase broadband remains near 70 percent of households. If leaders in your community – and residents – are struggling to see the value of a robust broadband infrastructure, eSports and online recreation may be the missing link.

About the authors:

Angelina Panettieri is the Principal Associate for Technology and Communication at the National League of Cities. Follower her on twitter @AngelinainDC.

 

Courtney Bernard is the Senior Communications Associate in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow her on Twitter @cbernard916.

The Midwest is No Longer the Rust Belt – It’s the “Production Belt”

Mayors Bill Peduto and Virg Bernero explain why now is the time to invest in America’s infrastructure and make a national commitment to advanced manufacturing.

(Getty Images)

For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to our economy – the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Mayor Bill Peduto and Mayor Virg Bernero.

Advanced manufacturing is the engine powering our nation’s economy and driving today’s innovation, which is why it is time for a national blueprint for manufacturing. We implore President-elect Trump and the 115th Congress to make a Marshall Plan-style commitment to advanced manufacturing, starting with rebuilding the infrastructure that makes American manufacturing possible.

As mayors and as co-chairs of the National League of Cities’ new Manufacturing Initiative, we recognize that this must be a bipartisan mission, as the success of our manufacturing sector will benefit communities from Connecticut to California.

We also endeavor to dispel several myths about manufacturing. First and foremost: the Midwest is no longer the “Rust Belt” of shuttered factories, but rather the “Production Belt” of advanced manufacturing that accounts for 10 percent of our workforce. In 2015, the manufacturing sector contributed $2.17 trillion to the U.S. economy, representing a growth of nearly one half-trillion dollars since 2009.

Another myth is that manufacturing is a relic, that we’ve become a “service” economy. The truth is, the manufacturing sector is more advanced and growing stronger than it has in decades, and it’s re-invigorating technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

America is home to the world’s most productive workers, with manufacturers accounting for 75 percent of our nation’s R&D and 90 percent of our patents. The “magic of manufacturing” is the spinoff activity that supports transportation, supply chains and more. For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to our economy – the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector. And, despite the myth that manufacturing jobs don’t pay well, the truth is that the compensation of the typical U.S. manufacturing worker is $81,289 annually, including pay and benefits.

Today’s manufacturing is a wholesale improvement over our grandparents’ dirty, monotonous production jobs. Today’s jobs offer a creative opportunity to innovate, using state-of-the-art equipment in diverse fields like aerospace, semi-conduction, robotics, biotechnology and engineering. Many manufacturers even offer a “learn and earn” model of apprenticeship training that pays workers to learn their trade. Yet these advanced jobs require a talent pipeline to connect them with skilled workers. Experts project that the U.S. will have over two million jobs go unfilled due to the skills gap.

The fact is, American manufacturing is also a matter of national security. Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General John Adams wrote a report detailing the ways domestic manufacturing keeps us safe. A strong domestic manufacturing base supports the Arsenal of Democracy.

Advanced manufacturing can also pave the way for a “green” industrial revolution that reduces our carbon footprint – not only by producing alternative energy products like solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells, but also by standardizing sustainable production methods for everyday commodities.

There are several national policies that can help shape a national blueprint, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s efforts to codify the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership – which has already invested $23 million to support 49 IMCP projects across 26 states. These projects will create or save more than 1,080 jobs, and generate nearly $855 million in private investment. We also support resurrecting the COMPETE Act (S. 2715) to incentivize more research and development, because R&D tax credits are really job credits. Another important win would be establishing a National Infrastructure Bank so we could fund economically-viable infrastructure projects nationwide and incentivize private investment.

The only way to reverse the overly-fragmented model of manufacturing is to establish “production ecosystems” that connect Main Street manufacturers, universities, and inventors into local networks. By strengthening these collaborations with coordinated local, state and federal policies, we can create a lasting national blueprint for advanced manufacturing.

In the international marketplace, we have an unprecedented opportunity to produce the most competitive brand of manufactured goods – those marked proudly as “Made in America.” Let’s get to work to make it happen.

About the authors: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mayor Bill Peduto and Lansing, Michigan, Mayor Virg Bernero are co-chairs of the National League of Cities Manufacturing Initiative.

Drones Will Have an Impact on Your City. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Cities across America will need to decide how they want to manage widespread commercial drone use, how they want to adopt drone technology for themselves, and how best they can encourage innovation in this exciting and growing field while still ensuring public safety.

(Getty Images)

Drones have the potential to revolutionize many industries and city services, particularly as their technology advances. Drones can be used for law enforcement and firefighting, as rural ambulances, and for inspections, environmental monitoring, and disaster management. (Getty Images)

We live in automated times. The technologies that for many represent the modern epoch – automobiles and airplanes – are maturing into a connected and automated future which will mark this century as much as Ford and the Wright brothers marked the previous one. While fully self-driving cars may still be a decade or so away, remotely piloted and even automated drones are already here.

Drones, like airplanes before them, are proving to be a versatile technology. Whether they are revolutionizing search and rescue capabilities or those of realtors showing off their homes, drones are lowering the cost and increasing the reach of airborne services. An individual can buy a drone for as little as a hundred dollars, sometimes less, and mount it with a low-cost high definition camera. While this technology puts the sky within reach for the layman, it also represents an opportunity for cities to augment their public services in new and innovative ways.

Drone sales have ballooned this decade, with around 700,00 recreational drones sold in 2015 alone. The retail research group NDP released a report in May announcing that drone sales tripled from the previous year. On June 21, the Federal Aviation Administration, which expects the number of drones to grow from 2.5 million in 2016 to 7 million by 2020, released new comprehensive regulations governing the use of drones in U.S. airspace.

While the new FAA regulations make strides towards strengthening drone registration and accountability infrastructure, they leave the bulk of enforcement and regulation to local and state government. As our skies become more crowded than ever, it is up to cities across America to decide how and when they want to see widespread commercial drone use, how they want to adopt drone technology for some of their own operations, and how best they can encourage innovation in this exciting and growing field while still ensuring public safety, accountability, and enforcement.

Drone technology promises to bring some exciting innovations that will help cities save revenue while increasing the effectiveness of the services they offer. Already, cities like Somerville, Massachusetts, and Tampa, Florida, are adopting drones for aerial inspections of city infrastructure. Arlington, Texas, and Grand Forks, North Dakota, are using drones to augment their local law enforcement capabilities. While drones offer a boon to municipalities looking to increase their effectiveness while lowering costs, this technology is quickly being adopted commercially as well. Drones are already used for precision farming and aerial photography, and are well on their way to being adopted for emergency medical services and commercial package delivery.

In a familiar pattern, innovation has outpaced legislation, leaving some cities behind as new drone businesses and practices emerge. When cities and towns are slow to act, they face possible preemption by their state legislatures, as has occurred in Maryland, and are missing a meaningful opportunity to shape drone use in their communities. The National League of Cities (NLC) has just released its municipal guide, Cities and Drones, as the first comprehensive study of the landscape of municipal drone adoption and regulation. The objective of this report is to assist local policy and decision makers as they consider their own community’s embrace of this technology. The challenge for local officials will be crafting policy and regulations that enable this drone technology to serve their cities best, embracing innovation, while still considering the safety and privacy concerns of their residents.

To read more about this issue, check out our full report, Cities and Drones: What Cities Need to Know About Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or the shorter issue brief.

About the Author: Elias Stahl is the Urban Innovation Intern in the National League of Cities (NLC) Center for City Solutions and Applied Research.

A Smarter Way to Make Smart Cities

Though it may seem counterintuitive, small interventions powered by small companies can have almost as large of an impact on cities as expensive, big business projects for only a fraction of the price.

Songdo, South Korea has been billed as the world’s first “smart city.” (Image: Gale International)

This is a guest post by Isabel Munson.

Today, when we hear the term “smart city”, massive interventions powered by some of the world’s largest companies come to mind. Take the $35 billion+ city of Songdo, South Korea, which was built from the ground-up with the help of Cisco. The planned city boasts 16 miles of bike paths, 40 percent of its area dedicated to outdoor spaces, and a designation as the biggest project outside the U.S. to be included in the LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Plan (and first LEED Accredited district in South Korea). Most impressive of all is the city’s pneumatic waste disposal system, which funnels garbage from every kitchen in the city directly to a central waste processing center. Only seven employees handle waste for the whole city, and there are no garbage trucks or cans on the street.

But how can you make a smart city if you don’t have several billion dollars or the ability to build a development from the ground up? Aren’t expensive projects by big companies the only way to make your city smart? Though it may seem counterintuitive, small interventions powered by small companies can have almost as large of an impact with a fraction of the price. The creation of small smart cities companies may seem unrelated to any municipality’s actions, but cities can do a lot to encourage and empower these innovations.

For example, the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston focuses on incorporating futuristic design and technology into the city’s development. Its willingness to invest resources and take chances on new technology has helped small companies succeed while ensuring that Boston remains innovative. I work for one of those small companies, Soofa, a MIT Media Lab spinoff founded in 2014. With the support of New Urban Mechanics, Soofa was able to pilot 10 pieces of smart urban furniture — solar-powered charging benches — just a few months after creating the first prototype.

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

The feedback gained from this pilot phase allowed Soofa to make major bench improvements and complete their first production run this spring, with benches being installed in eight U.S. states and three countries.

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

Across the river, Cambridge was also willing to take a risk on a new startup by being an early adopter of Soofa Benches and a R&D partner. The Soofa Bench features a sensor brain that detects the environment around it — from noise and nitrogen levels to humidity and temperature. Cambridge realized that this wealth of data gained from urban environments can be harnessed for more effective city planning, evaluating the efficacy of various programs and developments, and most importantly, helping citizens enjoy their urban spaces! As such, Cambridge was willing to be Soofa’s R&D partner as they develop the most comprehensive sensor brain and data platform possible. This R&D project was recently the feature of a Governing Magazine article which discusses in greater detail Soofa’s data collection capabilities.

So, why are small interventions better? When entrepreneurs envision ways to improve the city, they dream big, but are constrained by cost and practicality. The resulting products have big potential with a much smaller price tag. Installing a bench is much easier than retrofitting aged infrastructure with sensors, and more cost effective. A solar-powered bench can seem like an unnecessary expenditure, especially to smaller cities, but this investment enables cities to be more efficient and enjoyable in the future.

Creating a space where local entrepreneurs can have their city-improving ideas heard and potentially supported by city governments is critical to the creation of smart cities. Even if no investments are made, gaining the input of stakeholders from professors to designers and engineers is invaluable to future city planning. Chicago’s Array of Things project is another great example of a city using their valuable local academic and technological resources to create a low-cost, high-impact smart cities intervention.

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

Edward Krafcik, Director of Partnerships and Business Development at Soofa, participates in the Innovation Central expo pavilion at NLC's 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville. (photo: Paul Konz)

Edward Krafcik, Director of Partnerships and Business Development at Soofa. Soofa was recently invited to participate in the Innovation Central expo pavilion at NLC’s 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville. (photo: Paul Konz)

Chicago still took input from smart-cities giants like Cisco, but made a conscious choice to loop in local talent for the research and design behind the project. Though here we encourage cities to support small companies creating smart cities interventions, we must give big companies credit where credit is due. Without their push to encourage smart cities projects, smaller companies would never be able to sell their products or get funding — because no one would know what a smart city is! The research, awareness and funding from major companies in the smart cities space has been invaluable. That said, any city can be cost-effectively made into a smart city through small interventions powered by small businesses.

So, how do you future-proof your city? Prioritize the creation of civic innovation offices similar to New Urban Mechanics to support local talent and small businesses. Small, agile interventions end up having a big impact.

About the Author: Isabel Munson is the Data Strategy Lead at Soofa, an Internet-of-Things company dedicated to creating social, sustainable and smart cities. Her other musings on smart cities, #Soofatalk, may be found at www.soofa.co or @mysoofa.

Closing the Digital Divide in America

This is a guest post by David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation.

Chance the Rapper (left) and Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen present laptops to students from Chicago’s Alcott College Prep at a recent event to announce new Internet Essentials milestones. (Comcast)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 52 percent of low-income households in the United States subscribe to broadband at home. What’s more, for certain low-income groups, broadband adoption still falls more than 20 percentage points behind the general population, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Today, access to the Internet at home is essential for all family members to keep up in this digital and highly competitive world— so much so that it’s hard to believe there are still so many families without it. Whether doing homework, applying for college, searching and applying for jobs, paying bills, accessing health care or using social media, think for a second about how you would do all these things if you didn’t have the Internet at home? Would you park your car in your nearest McDonald’s parking lot so you could hand your smartphone to your child to use the free Wi-Fi to write a book report? Would you send your daughter across town on a bus at night to a computer lab so she could do her homework? Would you walk a mile to your local library to sign your son up for a 30 minute session on a computer? I’ve traveled all around the country hearing stories from mothers and fathers who had to do all of these things for their kids because they didn’t have Internet service at home. It doesn’t seem fair does it?

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In August 2011, we set out to try to help solve this problem by introducing Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. It provides low-cost broadband service for $9.95 a month; the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for less than $150; and multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online and in person.

That was three and a half years ago. Recently, we were proud to announce that thanks to the support and hard work of thousands of community partners, elected officials and dedicated employees, we have connected more than 450,000 families, or 1.8 million low-income Americans, to the power of the Internet at home. For a frame of reference, 1.8 million is larger than the populations of 96 of America’s 100 largest cities as well as 12 states. That is real and meaningful progress.

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On a local level, the Chicago metro area leads the way in closing the digital divide for the fourth year in a row. More than 50,000 families, or 200,000 low-income Chicagoans – nearly 25 percent of its eligible population – have signed up for Internet Essentials. Second best is the Miami metro area, with more than 41,500 families, or 166,000 low-income residents – 28 percent of its eligible population. The Atlanta metro area is third best with more than 25,000 families, or more than 100,000 low-income citizens – almost 20 percent of its eligible population.

Crossing the digital divide is not just about getting families online, it’s also about teaching them how to use the Internet’s resources to its fullest potential. The clear-cut assessment across all broadband researchers is that the most widely noted reason for non-adoption is not the price of the broadband connection or any cost related to that connection. Instead, it’s a bucket of digital literacy issues, including a perceived lack of relevance of the Internet and a lack of understanding of its value. For instance, nearly half of non-adopters say they simply don’t need the Internet at home or are not interested, according to research by the NTIA.

To break down that barrier to adoption, we’ve invested more than $225 million in cash and in-kind support to help fund digital literacy and readiness initiatives, reaching more than 3.1 million people through our network of national and local nonprofit community partners. Partners like the National League of Cities have also played a crucial role in making more people aware of these training opportunities.

One of my favorite statistics that truly highlights the progress we are making is from research by Dr. John B. Horrigan, former head of research for the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and a preeminent researcher on broadband adoption and utilization. He found that even though Comcast is only one of multiple providers, and does not have broadband systems in two-thirds of the country, the company’s Internet Essentials program has accounted for one-quarter of all of the national broadband adoption growth for low-income families with children from the program’s inception through June 2014.

We look forward to the continued success of the program. We believe the Internet has the power to transform lives, strengthen communities and inspire a new generation of leaders – but we can’t do this alone. We hope you will join us in this fight to close the digital divide. If you’d like to get more involved and become a partner, please sign up at www.internetessentials.com/partner and help spread the word.

david cohen, comcast_150x187About the Author: David L. Cohen is Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation. David has a broad portfolio of responsibilities, including corporate communications, government and regulatory affairs, public affairs, legal affairs, corporate administration and community investment, and serves as senior counselor to the CEO. He also serves as Chief Diversity Officer for the company.