In light of COVID-19, it is evident that the government plays a pivotal role in taking measures to address some of society’s biggest problems. From climate change to food insecurity and affordable housing, cities face unique challenges. Defined by density, diversity, and size, key stakeholders in urban areas now have to rethink livability, business, and public space.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, economies of the biggest metro areas in the US doubled in size between 2001 and 2018. While metropolitan cities are the epicenter of America’s economic boom and home to some of the longest-standing and fastest-growing companies, major challenges and disparities persist in these areas. Economic inequality has increased significantly in places that have seen exponential growth like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Houston, Washington, etc. Social and economic challenges that were already apparent have exacerbated at this time.
For example, the lack of investment in infrastructure and the built environment in many cities illustrate a disproportionate effect on low-income and communities of color. The United Nations has identified linkages between infrastructure, inequality, and resilience, acknowledging that the quality, design, coverage, accessibility, and distribution of connectivity infrastructure greatly affects people’s access to goods and services and job opportunities. Local decision makers across the US government have identified infrastructure as a top priority and yet made little to no progress in advancing it. In light of our current public health crisis, 65 percent of cities indicate that they are delaying or completely canceling capital outlays and infrastructure projects, according to a survey conducted by the National League of Cities.
How can we ensure that the best ideas and innovators are supported? This requires a commitment to incorporating a comparable depth in how we invest, develop, and deploy technologies and projects to the rich diversity found in our cities.
Additionally, cities are already experiencing the detrimental effects of climate change; over 90 percent of all urban areas are coastal. Natural disasters like floods and storms create financial challenges for businesses and the talent they wish to attract and retain. Climate change also heightens the impacts of the virus as extreme heat events have increased across the country. So what can we do about it?
As leaders think through solutions, public-private partnerships must be at the core. Cities are viewed as drivers of innovation, entrepreneurship, and ingenuity. Now is the time to create systems, initiatives, and processes that foster creative solutions. The future of sustainable and resilient cities relies on the inclusion of all sectors, communities, and ideas. One lone actor cannot create the same impact we know exists in partnerships. Governments must work in conjunction with businesses and organizations to pave a path forward that effectively brings together multi-industry stakeholders to imagine what’s possible.
Encourage Place-Based Innovation
Cities are not currently designed for what many would agree are our core values, including community, livability, and access for all. We fall short in realizing these values, evident in how different neighborhoods across cities are experiencing the pandemic. In New York City, for example, data showed that those living in the city's wealthiest neighborhoods left as the coronavirus pandemic hit. On the other hand, lower-income communities were more likely to remain and hold jobs that prevent them from working from home or leaving. An understanding of place and how residents interact with their environments provide an opportunity for greater return on impact and revenue. Place-based innovation generates solutions that are best positioned to solve urban challenges faced by all communities. Policymakers, communities, startups, and established companies play a vital role in encouraging frameworks that make this feasible.
Champion Inclusive Ideas and Policies
Building on the claim that place is beneficial for communities and businesses, how can we ensure that the best ideas and innovators are supported? This requires a commitment to incorporating a comparable depth in how we invest, develop, and deploy technologies and projects to the rich diversity found in our cities. Leaders across sectors must be intentional about who and what is funded, what policies support all communities, and where entrepreneurship is fostered. As we know, there isn’t a lack of ingenuity in urban communities, and relying on strategic partnerships to bring the appropriate resources, talent, and expertise together allows cities to adequately address complex challenges including waste, mobility, energy, agriculture, etc. Inclusive policies and ideas are key to advancing innovation districts in cities that drive economies.
By investing in public-private partnerships that bring together a diverse cohort of sectors, communities, stakeholders, and thought, cities can continue to spearhead impact and innovation.