public-private partnership

Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 2012: Three big ideas from three big names in transportation

So this one time, Gabe Klein (Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation), Janette Sadik-Khan (Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation), and Ed Reiskin (Director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) all walked into a bar…well, not quite a bar, but they did walk in together. Last week, the Transportation Research Board, a research body within the National Academies, held its annual meeting in Washington, DC. These three transportation visionaries spoke about Mobility Strategies for the 21st Century in one of hundreds of conference sessions throughout the week. Most of their presentations were focused on what each had already achieved in their city. San Francisco has smart parking meters, which allow for frequently-adjusted parking prices. Chicago had its first separated bike lane within Klein’s first 30 days in office. New York has blossomed with bike lanes and public seating areas in a mission to reclaim urban spaces for people rather than cars.

Urban Omnibus: NYC pedestrian plaza

The forward-thinking comments came mostly at the end, during a Q&A session. John Robert Smith, of Reconnecting America, hosted the session and posed the question to the panelists, “What one piece of advice would you offer the transportation professionals in the audience about how to achieve change?” Their answers highlight the need for public-private partnerships in the coming years.

Gabe Klein. If you have to have a boss, get a good one, and don’t be afraid to lose your job.

Ed Reiskin. Act short, think long. Communication and marketing are key.

Janette Sadik-Khan. Have a vision and show results.

Each of these comments reflects their individual backgrounds. Klein and Sadik-Khan are most recently from the private sector. Klein worked in several private ventures including ZipCar and Sadik-Khan had been a Senior Vice President of Parsons Brinckerhoff. The spirit in their comments is one of control – control to choose your boss and to put your vision into action. Reiskin, whose career has focused on the public sector, seems to be more political and strategic. He undoubtedly sees the need to leverage others’ power (e.g. politicians, the general public) through communication, marketing, and a baby-steps approach (act short, think long) to achieve his vision.

- Terra Curtis

Universities as Incubators

WBUR’s Adam Frank picked up the story: “Like many winter days here in upstate New York, it’s cold and gray in Rochester. But today feels darker than usual because when we woke up this morning, we learned that Eastman Kodak was filing for bankruptcy.” Frank goes on to be the optimist: Rochester will be okay; the University of Rochester is doing great things, not the least of which is providing the city with jobs. UR has become a center of medical and technological innovation. It has a Center for Entrepreneurship and announced this fall it would begin an Incubator Program.

incubator cartoon

So goes the story in other cities around the US (and world?), claims Frank. Others are backing him up. Eric Eldon of TechCrunch notes a very recent story from New York City, where Cornell will be launching a tech center (“NYCTech”) on Roosevelt Island in partnership with the City. “The goal of the campus is to further develop New York City as a key destination for technical talent, in the hopes of building a university-oriented innovation eco-system along the lines of what Stanford and Berkeley have in Silicon Valley, and what MIT has in Cambridge.” Other writers note similar stories in California, Massachusetts, New York, and Georgia.

These university-cities are becoming start-ups in their own right. As centers of knowledge, learning, and job creation, access to higher education will become ever more important. Or at least proximity to it.

-          Terra Curtis

Cities and Innovative Business: Starting the Conversation

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew_XfxSDjeU&w=440&h=253] This award round, the city of Cape Town is looking for a way to improve connections between the business community and the city. They believe these connections will foster faster, more innovative solutions to challenges there.

In the United States, the House of Representatives recently passed the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act (EACA), which now moves on to the Senate for approval. The Act relieves restrictions placed on start-ups seeking investor funding. Legislation dating back to the 1930s Depression era had limited the ability of for-profit entrepreneurs to “crowd fund” in order to limit fraud (i.e. a con artist poses as an innovator, receives crowd funding, then disappears). Supporters believe in today’s world, with limitations on single donation amounts, funders will be connected to business owners and a level of trust will exist to protect against fraud. If passed, the law will allow innovators to raise up to $2 million through small donations of up to $10,000 each.

Through deregulation, the bill encourages innovation through small business. Cape Town’s idea, which would produce a platform of communication between city officials and entrepreneurs-to-be, could enhance the effectiveness of EACA. With unemployment remaining high in the US, such a platform could enable the city both to increase employment opportunities and target specific areas of the city or populations in need. Simply informing the community about planned public investments and economic development opportunities could spur the unemployed to start their own business, or expand an existing business to increase jobs.

There are clear benefits to the enhancement of public-private partnership tools. The EACA in the US is a statement of confidence in small businesses. Cape Town’s request is recognition of the potential for small business to innovate. Together, private enterprises bloom, jobs increase, and local challenges are met. Public-private partnerships, specifically local start-up partnerships with cities, are a win-win.

-          ­Terra Curtis

The Value of Open Data

SF Weekly This San Francisco Chronicle article tells the story well: city government makes bold plans to update its information systems; city government lacks the resources to keep up with communications technology development in the private sector; city government opens data; private developers do the work for them. That is the general story behind the Summer of Smart event held in San Francisco this past summer.  Private web and mobile developers came together with employees of city government and others interested in spurring the technological advance of city communications tools.

One of the apps developed at the event, SMART Muni, comes as a direct result of open access to public transit data.  It provides both Muni administrators and Muni riders with real-time data on emergencies or delays in the system by using GPS data feeds sent directly from the vehicles.  The creators of the app, which come from very diverse backgrounds, envision a more fluidly managed system that results in fewer delays and happier customers.

One salient point made by the Chronicle writer was that in the past, citizens’ only method of engagement with the government was through protest, voting, or paying taxes.  Today, they can engage through positive and constructive means, shaping their own civic engagement process.  Happier customers indeed.

- Terra Curtis