Last week, I had the pleasure to attend CityLab Detroit, a 2.5 day event that is billed as “the preeminent global summit organized to address the most urgent urban issues of our time”, or in my words Coachella for City Nerds. The event, hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Atlantic, and the Aspen Institute, brings together mayors, city innovators, urban experts, and artists for unlikely conversations that both reflect on and generate new breakthroughs related to what cities are facing. I was blown away by the line-up that CityLab assembled this year, and came back to Seattle with my buzzing with ideas for us to adopt and adapt for use in addressing our own challenges. I also came back inspired, which was helpful a week before the midterms; after hearing city leaders talk about the concrete actions they’re taking to improve the lives of their residents, I was reminded of the power of public service and the good that can be done when you block out the noise and focus on outcomes for those we’re trying to serve.
Given Seattle’s own affordability crisis, my favorite one-on-one interview at CityLab was conducted by Jim Fallows with Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California. Mayor Tubbs has launched the nation’s first experiment to test universal basic income, and it was powerful to hear in his words why this pilot – which will closely measure several key indicators for those receiving the monthly payment of $500 a month – is important not only for his constituents in Stockton, but for so many folks across the U.S. right now. The idea of universal basic income has generated a lot of discussion, both positive and negative, and I look forward to seeing what Stockton learns. You can watch the interview with Mayor Tubbs at the 1:39 mark here: https://youtu.be/xb4DtSwXgAA
Another effort I’ve been watching from afar and was keen to hear more about is Sidewalk Labs’ smart neighborhood project in Toronto, Quayside. Dan Doctoroff, who leads the Alphabet company, shared with the CityLab audience the vision for Quayside and addressed the understandable concerns that abound regarding how the project will balance urban placemaking with technology. You can watch the interview with Doctoroff at the 40:30 mark here: https://youtu.be/xb4DtSwXgAA.
Last but certainly not least, the biggest highlight of CityLab for me was spending time with other city changemakers. In a first-of-its-kind convening the day before CityLab began, Bloomberg Philanthropies convened Chief Innovators from over 60 global cities to share our work, get inspired, and develop connections that will generate ideas and collaborations that are sure to be featured in future CityLab events. The day included a great session with Dr. Michael Hallsworth from the Behavioral Insights Team and a panel of civic innovators who shared successes and failures in a candid conversation about their work. For someone who tries to read as much as I can online about the work of other cities, nothing beats grabbing coffee and chatting with someone about their work. It was a great day and the theme of connection was reiterated through a lunch at the end of CityLab with directors of other Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded innovation teams. This is a group that inspires me, and breaking bread with them was a great way to end the trip to Detroit.
CityLab Your Couch
If you’re interested in checking out the conversations from CityLab Detroit – including a great panel discussion on Unleashing Opportunity featuring our own Mayor Jenny Durkan – check out the Aspen Institute’s CityLab website for videos.