Serving as municipal leaders, our work is ever constant and dynamic. We work tirelessly to respond to constituent needs by developing policy, managing land use, setting direction, negotiating contracts, balancing budgets, and working with various stakeholders. And the work can be quite detailed!
Opportunities like the recent Silicon Valley Future of Cities event, hosted by the National League of Cities (NLC) and Tech for America, provide local officials the opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture by having collaborative conversations with leading technology companies, fellow leaders, and thought partners.
Through on-site visits with companies including Zillow, Thumbtack, Autodesk, Postmates, Apple and Zoox, 19 colleagues from across the country and I had the chance to learn, see, and ask tough questions about the technologies that are transforming where and how we live, work, govern and play. There are lessons that every municipal leader can take away from this experience.
Takeaway 1: Our cities will look different in the future because of technology – and the transformation is occurring now.
There is no question that technology is helping us design and build a more sustainable, resilient infrastructure. For example, with software from companies like Autodesk, the work of planning and engineering teams is evolving significantly. From 3-D printed bridges to artificial intelligence-assisted building design, technology is redefining how our communities look. Conventional approaches will continue to evolve beyond our collective imagination – and our workforce development pipeline must be in step with this transformation.
Our communities are ecosystems. The dialogue during the event invited us to consider how communities across America can participate in this new economy and support local entrepreneurship. All of our cities, towns, and villages have existing structures that can be repurposed to coworking, incubator, and/or accelerator spaces. Every one of us can think of a building or space that could be transformed – we just need creativity, resourcefulness, and political will to make it happen. After all, Apple started in a garage! In the case of San Leandro, a facility built in the 1950s that originally served as a Plymouth automobile manufacturing plant was transformed into an innovative tech and biotech campus called Gate510. This transformation was aided by a gigabit fiber connection installed in 2014 by Lit San Leandro, a public-private partnership between the City of San Leandro and San Leandro Dark Fiber.
Furthermore, there are technological advances that may feel like they’re coming in the distant future but in fact, are already here. Case in point: all-electric autonomous vehicles. During our visit to driverless mobility company Zoox, we had the opportunity to learn about the technology that is already in several cities in America and will soon become a reality everywhere. Yes, this means cars designed and built without steering wheels will be the new normal – and we have to start preparing today.
Takeaway 2: Data enables us to see that housing instability is an issue everywhere. We cannot thrive if many of us only survive.
As our first host during the event, Zillow provided data about our local housing markets. From Zillow’s office in San Francisco to nearly every other stop along the way, housing affordability, instability and homelessness arose as a common issue faced by almost every community in each region of the country. It was remarkable to hear stories shared by civic leaders about how expensive it is to be in a home irrespective of where we all are on the pricing scale. The data requires us to ask critical questions: Why is this an issue everywhere? What is happening on a structural basis nationwide that is inhibiting housing accessibility from coast to coast across a wide variety of small, large, rural, suburban, and urban communities? How do we move toward addressing the root causes of this issue?
Throughout the day, leaders of the companies we visited described housing as a persistent challenge. What became increasingly clear from this trip is that the private sector recognizes that this challenge needs to be addressed and desires to do so in partnership with civic leaders. While it is obvious to me that we have not effectively worked together to solve this most basic issue, I also believe, going forward, there is an opportunity for us to collaborate on solutions to the housing crisis plaguing our country.
Takeaway 3: There are good actors in the technology space – and we should look for partnerships to promote innovation.
A unifying theme during this trip was the notion that we as municipal officials should not silo technology. We can use it to enhance and improve the lives of our residents. It can enable us to be more creative, more productive and more empowered. It can help us foster new industries and grow local businesses. It can expand our capacities as local governments, and it can help us know more to improve our communities.
Based on our conversations with various tech industry leaders during the trip, it’s clear that civic leaders must partner with the private sector to promote mutual opportunities. This model has been integral to San Leandro’s success. Over 350 businesses have been connected to Lit San Leandro and, more recently, an innovative wireless internet service provider entered agreements with the city to use our municipal broadband infrastructure to deliver an affordable, high-speed residential internet service in our community. The city dedicated fiber strands to our local school district, connecting 13 school sites and the district office to promote 21st century learning. We have also provided service to non-profits throughout town such as the Boys & Girls Club, helping to promote digital inclusion.
Care about technology issues or want to learn more about them? Join us at the Information Technology and Communications Committee!
In addition to serving as Councilmember in San Leandro, I also have the honor of serving as the Chair of the Information Technology and Communications Federal Advocacy Committee at NLC. We are focused on a range of technology issues including championing municipal broadband infrastructure and net neutrality, fighting against FCC small cell preemption, and closing the digital divide. We would be delighted to have you join us in our upcoming meeting on Sunday, March 8 at the Congressional City Conference, where we will discuss how cities are improving our communities through technology and fighting back against federal preemption.
Technology can enhance the way we govern, plan, and work toward a better tomorrow. We just have to go for it!
About the Author: Corina Lopez is a partner of Pinnacle Vista Technology, LLC, an IT management consulting company. She serves on the San Leandro City Council and is Chair of the National League of Cities Information Technology and Communications Federal Advocacy Committee. Lopez is dedicated to promoting and expanding public Wi-Fi, innovation, and Smart City solutions. She is a leader in introducing and expanding free public Wi-Fi throughout San Leandro and bringing high-speed interconnectivity to the San Leandro Unified School District. Beginning as a parks and neighborhood advocate in San Leandro over 15 years ago, Lopez has advocated for her community on the local, regional, state, and national level.