Civic Jazz in the New Maker Cities

 at Techonomy: “Our civic innovation movement is about 6 years old.  It began when cities started opening up data to citizens, journalists, public-sector companies, non-profits, and government agencies.  Open data is an invitation: it’s something to go to work on— both to innovate and to create a more transparent environment about what works and what doesn’t.  I remember when we first opened data in SF and began holding conferences and hackathons. In short order we saw a community emerge with remarkable capacity to contribute to, tinker with, hack, explore and improve the city.

Early on this took the form of visualizing data, like crime patterns in Oakland. This was followed by engagement: “Look, the police are skating by and not enforcing prostitution laws. Lets call them on it!”   Civic hackathons brought together journalists, software developers, hardware people, and urbanists. I recall when artists teamed with the Arup engineering firm to build noise sensors and deployed them in the Tenderloin neighborhood (with absolutely no permission from anybody). Noise was an issue. How could you understand the problem unless you measured it?

Something as wonky as an API invited people in, at which point a sense of civic possibility and wonder set in. Suddenly whole swaths of the city were working on the city.  During the SF elections four years ago Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (which I chair) led a project with candidates, bureaucrats, and hundreds of volunteers for a summer-long set of hackathons and projects. We were stunned so many people would come together and collaborate so broadly. It was a movement, fueled by a sense of agency and informed by social media. Today cities are competing on innovation. It has become a movement.

All this has been accelerated by startups, incubators, and the economy’s whole open innovation conversation.  Remarkably, we now see capital from flowing in to support urban and social ventures where we saw none just a few years ago. The accelerator Tumml in SF is a premier example, but there are similar efforts in many cities.

This initial civic innovation movement was focused on apps and data, a relatively easy place to start. With such an approach you’re not contending for real estate or creating something that might gentrify neighborhoods. Today this movement is at work on how we design the city itself.  As millennials pour in and cities are where most of us live, enormous experimentation is at play. Ours is a highly interdisciplinary age, mixing new forms of software code and various physical materials, using all sorts of new manufacturing techniques.

Brooklyn is a great example.  A few weeks ago I met with Bob Bland, CEO of Manufacture New York. This ambitious 160,000 square foot public/private partnership is reimagining the New York fashion business. In one place it co-locates contract manufacturers, emerging fashion brands and advanced fashion research. Think wearables, sensors, smart fabrics, and the application of advanced manufacturing to fashion. By bringing all these elements under one roof, the supply chain can be compressed, sped-up, and products made more innovative.

New York City’s Economic Development office envisions a local urban supply chain that can offer a scalable alternative to the giant extended global one. In fashion it makes more and more sense for brands to be located near their suppliers. Social media speeds up fashion cycles, so we’re moving beyond predictable seasons and looks specified ahead of time. Manufacturers want to place smaller orders more frequently, so they can take less inventory risk and keep current with trends.

When you put so much talent in one space, creativity flourishes. In fashion, unlike tech, there isn’t a lot of IP protection. So designers can riff off each other’s idea and incorporate influences as artists do. What might be called stealing ideas in the software business is seen in fashion as jazz and a way to create a more interesting work environment.

A few blocks away is the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a mammoth facility at the center of New York’s emerging maker economy. …In San Francisco this urban innovation movement is working on the form of the city itself. Our main boulevard, Market Street, is to be reimagined, repaved, and made greener with far fewer private vehicles over the next two years. Our planning department, in concert with art organizations here, has made citizen-led urban prototyping the centerpiece of the planning process….(More)”