Our newest blog series delves into four, unique accelerants that put U.S. cities on the verge of something “very special” in 2016. In this post: the ubiquity and power of technology.
began my last two blogs by asserting my belief that, in a decade, we will look back at 2016 and see that it was the year where we began seeing rapid, sometimes exponential, narrowing of disparities between rich and poor, white and non-white Americans.
The convergence of four unique accelerants will get us there in 2016 and beyond: (1) public will for a more equitable America; (2) cities as home to a majority of the population and their effectiveness as laboratories for addressing complex social and economic challenges; (3) the ubiquity and power of technology; and (4) the unprecedented availability of impact investment capital.
My prior blogs covered two of the four accelerants: public will and the role of cities. This post addresses the ubiquity and power of technology.
My focus on technology is not techno-optimism, as Paul Krugman might call it, or the “constant assertion that new technologies will rekindle rapid economic growth.” No, I believe that technology is an accelerant because it enables us to do things never before possible. And that these possibilities make it easier to fight poverty, link low-income people to the economic mainstream and speed up the results we want achieve through a “New Urban Practice.”
Technology enables us to:
Measure the Human Condition Regularly
We now have the information, and the processing power, needed to understand and rapidly respond to urban society in ways previously unimaginable. Big Data has infinite potential to improve the human condition on an ongoing basis. I’ve written before about the power and potential of big data to create “Humanity’s Dashboard.” We’re seeing cities move to harness that power.
In Boston, for example, the CityScore Dashboards use data to grade how the city is performing on everything from fire department response time to school attendance. The dashboards have allowed the Mayor and his staff to evaluate the health of the city in real-time, and rapidly adapt to most effectively meet the needs of Boston’s residents. The CBPP recently tweeted that CityScore was “the coolest and most comprehensive set of city data analytics in the country.”
Better Understand the Problems and Even Predict the Future
Technology gives us the opportunity to understand, address and even anticipate the problems that low-income people are facing, continuously, and at a level of specificity that was never before possible. The ubiquity of geolocation data, or data associated with an electronic device that can be used to identify its physical location, is one game-changer. At the city level, Detroit was able to map 380,217 parcels of land in 10 weeks by “blexting”. Surveyors used a mobile app that photographed and geotagged each property with details about its condition, then fed a live-stream to staff who conducted a quality control check on the data. Village Defense, often referred to as “Waze for crime fighting,” is an app that uses the power of crowd-sourced, geolocation data to help neighborhoods fight crime. Over 2,700 neighborhoods rely on VillageDefense to communicate about criminal activity.