Citizens’ Assemblies in Los Angeles Could Be The Art Of The Possible

Article by Susana F. Molina: “At the end of his career, the physician and playwright Wayne Liebman has painstakingly entered a strategic race to advocate for citizens’ assemblies – “throwing spaghetti to the wall, and waiting to see what sticks. If something sticks, it’s where I go” as he describes it. His frequent use of metaphors filled a spirited conversation over Zoom last week.

Liebman hadn’t been an activist to his core – the last time he was that active was during the anti-war movement – but the 2016 election left him with no other choice, he says. He retired from medicine and became a full-time activist. Nothing that he had anticipated. 

He began to get involved, in a partisan way, to help regain some political power, at least, in Congress. But, in the midst of the storming of the US capitol, “as I felt like I had thrown a ladder at the castle wall,” he continues, “what I realized is that I have thrown it to the wrong wall.” Liebman’s deep exposure to elections and politicians made him realize that he couldn’t trust the system anymore, “in fact it was the system that had gotten us to the point where we were at,” he says.

According to RepresentUs, America’s leading anti-corruption organization, only 4% of Americans currently have a great deal of confidence in Congress. Significantly, a growing number of democracy advocate organizations are sprouting out around the country to fix, what they call, a broken political system. “Unfortunately what they mean by that, is to try to fix how elections work,” says Liebman. “But this is like lipstick on a pig.” Australia has already instituted all kinds of reforms and still Australians are completely dissatisfied with how politicians run their country.

Liebman started to read about direct democracy, citizens’ assemblies and lottery selected panels. While in representative democracies like in the US people vote for representatives who execute policies and laws, direct democracy models allocate more power to people because they include citizens’ recommendations into the policy-making decision process.

“I quickly became a convert,” he admits. In 2020 Liebman founded the nonpartisan nonprofit organization Public Access Democracy in Los Angeles to educate the public about democratic lotteries and advocate for the implementation of citizens’ assemblies. Currently, one minute at the microphone at an open City Council Meeting depicts a bizarre moment in a bleak democracy landscape. Introducing citizens’ assemblies — where a randomly selected group of citizens hears expert evidence then deliberates — would boost participation on difficult issues and solutions that people have already embraced voluntarily and have built consensus…(More)”.

Centers of Progress: 40 Cities That Changed the World

Book by Chelsea Follett: “Where does progress happen? The story of civilization is the story of the city. It is cities that have created and defined the modern world by acting as the sites of pivotal advances in culture, politics, science, technology, and more. There is no question that certain places, at certain times in history, have contributed disproportionately toward making the world a better place. This book tells the story of forty of those places.

In Centers of Progress: 40 Cities That Changed the World, Chelsea Follett examines a diverse group of cities, ranging from ancient Athens to Song‐​era Hangzhou. But some common themes stand out: most cities reach their creative peak during periods of peace; most centers of progress also thrive during times of social, intellectual, and economic freedom, as well as openness to intercultural exchange and trade; and centers of progress tend to be highly populated. Because, in every city, it is ultimately the people who live there who drive progress forward―if given the freedom to do so.

Identifying common factors―such as relative peace, freedom, and multitudes―among the places that have produced history’s greatest achievements is one way to learn what causes progress. Change is a constant, but progress is not. Understanding what makes a place fertile ground for progress may help to sow the seeds of future innovations.

Moreover, their story is our story. City air provides the wind in the sails of the modern world. Come journey through these pages to some of history’s greatest centers of progress…(More)”.

Artificial intelligence in local governments: perceptions of city managers on prospects, constraints and choices

Paper by Tan Yigitcanlar, Duzgun Agdas & Kenan Degirmenci: “Highly sophisticated capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) have skyrocketed its popularity across many industry sectors globally. The public sector is one of these. Many cities around the world are trying to position themselves as leaders of urban innovation through the development and deployment of AI systems. Likewise, increasing numbers of local government agencies are attempting to utilise AI technologies in their operations to deliver policy and generate efficiencies in highly uncertain and complex urban environments. While the popularity of AI is on the rise in urban policy circles, there is limited understanding and lack of empirical studies on the city manager perceptions concerning urban AI systems. Bridging this gap is the rationale of this study. The methodological approach adopted in this study is twofold. First, the study collects data through semi-structured interviews with city managers from Australia and the US. Then, the study analyses the data using the summative content analysis technique with two data analysis software. The analysis identifies the following themes and generates insights into local government services: AI adoption areas, cautionary areas, challenges, effects, impacts, knowledge basis, plans, preparedness, roadblocks, technologies, deployment timeframes, and usefulness. The study findings inform city managers in their efforts to deploy AI in their local government operations, and offer directions for prospective research…(More)”.

The Secret Solution To Increasing Resident Trust

Report by CivicPlus: “We surveyed over 16,000 Americans to determine what factors most impacted community members in fostering feelings of trust in their local government. We found that residents in communities with digital resident self-service technology are more satisfied with their local government than residents still dependent on analog interactions to obtain government services. Residents in technology-forward communities also tend to be more engaged civic participants…(More)”.

City CIOs urged to lay the foundations for generative AI

Article by Sarah Wray: “The London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) has produced a collection of guides to support local authorities in using generative artificial intelligence (genAI) tools such as ChatGPT, Bard, Midjourney and Dall-E.

The resources include a guide for local authority leaders and another aimed at all staff, as well as a guide designed specifically for council Chief Information Officers (CIOs), which was developed with AI software company Faculty.

Sam Nutt, Researcher and Data Ethicist at LOTI, a membership organisation for over 20 boroughs and the Greater London Authority, told Cities Today: “Generative AI won’t solve every problem for local governments, but it could be a catalyst to transform so many processes for how we work.

“On the one hand, personal assistants integrated into programmes like Word, Excel or Powerpoint could massively improve officer productivity. On another level there is a chance to reimagine services and government entirely, thinking about how gen AI models can do so many tasks with data that we couldn’t do before, and allow officers to completely change how they spend their time.

“There are both opportunities and challenges, but the key message on both is that local governments should be ambitious in using this ‘AI moment’ to reimagine and redesign our ways of working to be better at delivering services now and in the future for our residents.”

As an initial step, local governments are advised to provide training and guidelines for staff. Some have begun to implement these steps, including US cities such as BostonSeattle and San Jose.

Nutt stressed that generative AI policies are useful but not a silver bullet for governance and that they will need to be revisited and updated regularly as technology and regulations evolve…(More)”.

How citywide data strategies can connect the dots, drive results

Blog by Bloomberg Cities Network: “Data is more central than ever to improving service delivery, managing performance, and identifying opportunities that better serve residents. That’s why a growing number of cities are adding a new tool to their arsenal—the citywide data strategy—to provide teams with a holistic view of data efforts and then lay out a roadmap for scaling successful approaches throughout city hall.

These comprehensive strategies are increasingly “critical to help mayors reach their visions,” according to Amy Edward Holmes, executive director The Bloomberg Center for Government Excellence at John Hopkins University, which is helping dozens of cities across the Americas up their data games as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies City Data Alliance (CDA).

Bloomberg Cities spoke with experts in the field and leaders in pioneering cities to learn more about the importance of citywide data strategies and how they can help:

  • Turn “pockets of promise” into citywide strengths;
  • Build upon and consolidate other citywide strategic efforts; 
  • Improve performance management and service delivery;
  • Align staff data capabilities with city needs;
  • Drive lasting cultural change through leadership commitment…(More)”.

Creating Action with Data: Using Data to Increase Equity in Urban Development

Report by Justin Kollar, Niko McGlashan, and Sarah Williams: “The use of data in urban development is controversial because of the numerous examples showing its use to reinforce inequality rather than inclusion. From the development of Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) maps, which excluded many minority communities from mortgages, to zoning laws used to reinforce structural racism, data has been used by those in power to elevate some while further marginalizing others. Yet data can achieve the opposite outcome by exposing inequity, encouraging dialogue and debate, making developers and cities more accountable, and ultimately creating new digital tools to make development processes more inclusive. Using data for action requires that we build teams to ask and answer the right questions, collect the right data, analyze the data ingeniously, ground-truth the results with communities, and share the insights with broader groups so they can take informed action. This paper looks at the development of two recent approaches in New York and Seattle to measure equity in urban development. We reflect on these approaches through the lens of data action principles (Williams 2020). Such reflections can highlight the challenges and opportunities for furthering the measurement and achievement of equitable development by other groups, such as real estate developers and community organizations, who seek to create positive social impact through their activities…(More)”.

Governing the informed city: examining local government strategies for information production, consumption and knowledge sharing across ten cities

Paper by Katrien Steenmans et al: “Cities are more and more embedded in information flows, and their policies are increasingly called assessment frameworks to understand the impact of the systems of knowledge underpinning local government. Encouraging a more systemic view on the data politics of the urban age, this paper investigates the information ecosystem in which local governments are embedded. Seeking to go beyond the ‘smart city’ paradigm into a more overt discussion of the structures of information-driven urban governance, it offers a preliminary assessment across ten case studies (Barcelona, Bogotá, Chicago, London, Medellín, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Seoul and Warsaw). It illustrates how both internal and external actors to local government are deeply involved throughout information mobilization processes, though in different capacities and to different extents, and how the impact of many of these actors is still not commonly assessed and/or leveraged by cities. Seeking to encourage more systematic analysis the governance of knowledge collection, dissemination, analysis, and use in cities, the paper advocates for an ‘ecosystem’ view of the emerging ‘informed cities’ paradigm…(More)”.

Social approach to the transition to smart cities

Report by the European Parliamentary Research Services (EPRS): “This study explores the main impacts of the smart city transition on our cities and, in particular, on citizens and territories. In our research, we start from an analysis of smart city use cases to identify a set of key challenges, and elaborate on the main accelerating factors that may amplify or contain their impact on particular groups and territories. We then present an account of best practices that can help mitigate or prevent such challenges, and make some general observations on their scalability and replicability. Finally, based on an analysis of EU regulatory frameworks and a mapping of current or upcoming initiatives in the domain of smart city innovation, capacity-building and knowledge capitalisation, we propose six policy options to inform future policy-making at EU level to support a more inclusive smart city transition…(More)”.

Crafting the future: involving young people in urban design

Article by Alastair Bailey: “About 60 per cent of urban populations will be under 18 years of age by 2030, according to UN Habitat, but attempts to involve young people in the design of their cities remain in their infancy. Efforts to enlist this generation have often floundered due to a range of problems — not least an unwillingness to listen to their needs.

“The actual involvement of young people in planning is negligible” says Simeon Shtebunaev, a Birmingham City University doctoral researcher in youth and town planning and researcher at urban social enterprise Social Life. However, new technologies offer a way forward. Digitisation has come to be seen as a “panacea to youth engagement” in many cities, notes Shtebunaev.

Hargeisa, the largest city of Somaliland in the Horn of Africa and home to 1.5mn people, has already been demonstrating what can be achieved by digitally engaging with young people — notably through the Minecraft video game. This enables users to design and build structures in a manner similar to expensive 3D modelling software.

Despite large-scale reconstruction, the city still bears the scars of the 1981-91 civil war, during which former Somalian dictator Said Barre sought to wipe out members of the city’s dominant Isaaq clan to enforce his own rule. Up to an estimated 200,000 Isaaq died.

In September 2019, though, “Urban Visioning Week” brought Hargeisa residents together over five days to discuss the city’s future as part of the UN’s Joint Programme on Local Governance. The aim was for residents to identify the city’s problems and what improvements they felt were needed…(More)”.