The City Accelerator competition has officially commenced and the videos and descriptions for the six cities in the first cohort are available for public rating – be sure to rank them all for yourself.
After reviewing each video myself, I am struck by the diversity of our group of communities and pleased at how they represent the nation. Geographically, three cities are in the East and three are in the West. The government models are also well represented: Three cities have combined city/county governments and three are more conventional municipalities. By population, the cities are also a mix, ranging from a high of over 1.5 million people in Philadelphia to a little more than 550,000 people in Albuquerque.
As the competition progresses, I will highlight two competitors each week – the first being Louisville and Albuquerque – to help provide context to each city’s proposal.
Louisville is a prominent city on the Ohio River will all of the colorful history and economic promise of the early 1900s’ steamboat era. The city suffered a period of urban decline and subsequent revival in the last half of the 20th century. During this period, the city sought to annex its growing suburbs. Initially stymied by the Kentucky State Legislature, after several failed attempts a successful referendum officially merged the city and county governments in 2003.
Louisville became somewhat famous in government circles for its aggressive and ambitious efforts to overcome obstacles of governmental and economic obsolescence. The city has worked to rebuild its downtown and riverfront and recast its role as a community with a vital and creative future – not only as a town with an interesting past.
As Louisville’s economic picture has brightened, current efforts are aimed at using private sector methods to strengthen the business climate and pay special attention to low-income citizens. For example, Mayor Fischer established specialized offices for Civic Innovation and Performance Improvement. These offices, along with the Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded Innovation Delivery Team, are building bridges between the public and private sectors while finding new ways to spark entrepreneurial applications to address public needs.
In speaking with Theresa Reno-Weber, Louisville’s chief of performance and technology, it is obvious the city is attempting to drill down into the fine details – not just float above the problems with broad-brush ideas and concepts. For example, one program directs cross-functional teams to help the most vulnerable citizens suffering with problems related to both mental illness and substance abuse. Another program seeks breakthrough solutions to provide better, more cost-effective ways to provide basic public services like fire and EMS.
Louisville is attempting to solve familiar problems in innovative ways and approach issues from new directions.
Like Louisville, Albuquerque is located on an important part of transportation history. As a central stop on the cross-continental railways that first connected the country, it has inherited a bit of railroad infrastructure that is being transformed into an attractive asset for the future. The city is salvaging 27 acres of abandoned rail yards – most of which have a roof – and converting them into entrepreneurial space, farmers’ markets and havens for small businesses. In this way, Albuquerque is taking an economic boon from the past and repurposing it for new opportunities.
However, Albuquerque is also facing many of the same difficult, chronic, almost intractable problems as Louisville and other urban communities: unemployment, under-employment, homelessness and more.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Albuquerque to see its efforts to combat homelessness. Talking with Mayor Richard Berry recently, I learned that the city’s efforts have paid off: More than 360 chronically homeless citizens have obtained permanent housing. Mayor Barry outlined his administration’s efforts to further a budding spirit of enterprise and innovation.
The downtown location of the city’s Innovation Corridor and plans to convert the large downtown Old First Baptist Church into a Center for Excellence for Entrepreneurship are elements of that plan. Additionally, the city has a strong relationship with the University of New Mexico to commercialize inventions and innovations produced in a unique civic/academic environment.
Mayor Berry says low-income individuals will not be left behind. “If we don’t reach out to individuals trapped in poverty staring over a moat at all the community is attempting to do, we will have a great tech community, but we will have missed the mark of achieving a greater purpose,” he says.
Mayor Berry is also in a hurry. “Every year that we don’t get it done is a year lost,” he says. Ideas and administrations have a shelf life.”
Albuquerque and Louisville are different and similar, but both committed to using an enhanced spirit of innovation to aid the whole community – with a special emphasis on those with the greatest need.
You can help Albuquerque, Louisville and the other cities participating in the City Accelerator by rating and reviewing their proposals. The process is simple, fast, and – dare I say – fun. Just follow the links, watch a short video and give them a quick review.
This post originally appeared on Governing.com.