The Case for “Bottom-Up” Smart City Development by Justin Bibb


By: Justin M. Bibb

Articles examining how smart cities will shape the future seem to be dominating the news these days. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal dedicated an entire series to The Rise of the Smart Citywhich highlighted how city leaders are finding new ways to leverage technology and data to solve major policy problems. Without a doubt, this is the age of the smart city. However, the question of “who” and “what” are we building the smart city for continues to be one of much debate.

In its simplest form, a smart city can be defined as an urban development vision that leverages technology to manage a city’s assets. Within the U.S., according to Black and Veatch’s 2017 Smart City/Smart Utility Report, industry leaders from the private and public sector primarily see reducing operating costs and improving community satisfaction as the main drivers of smart city initiatives. And in a majority of cases, many smart city projects are initiated or led by stakeholders from the top. While this approach is merit worthy, it can’t be the only way cities view smart city development. For cities to truly realize the benefits of smart city initiatives they must embrace a “bottom-up” approach or risk wasting precious resources and expending political capital for limited returns.

A “bottom-up” approach means being intentional about systematically incorporating citizen voice throughout a smart cities project lifecycle. This is needed to help move urban residents from passive consumers to engaged consumers. And this trend will continue to rise as urban dwellers are demanding more flexible, personalized services. Additionally, building an infrastructure to continuously manage and measure what matters most to advance the economic and social well-being of a city can’t happen in a vacuum; it requires broad-based community engagement.

Creating A Model for the Nation

Leveraging citizen voice might sound too abstract, but in practice, it has the opportunity to yield tangible results. This breakthrough came from Gallup’s work with the Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA). In 2007, Arizona leaders – business, public, and nonprofit – had established state-wide goals and an agenda for addressing the influx of new citizens, but priorities had not taken into account the voice of Arizona’s citizens. Because no definitive account of citizens’ voices existed.

Recognizing this problem, we worked in tandem with CFA to identify policy priorities of citizens, assess levels of community engagement, and evaluate the relationship between policy priorities and major citizen concerns. We conducted detailed analytics using surveys, focus groups, and other data science tools leveraging behavioral economics. Using this research intervention, CFA was able to identify 8 major “Citizen Goals” and achieve significant progress towards advancing structural community change in the areas of healthcare reform, public transportation, and higher education. In essence, we helped build a visioning framework to drive sustainable economic growth.

This model of leveraging citizen voice can also be applied to drive “bottom-up” smart city development.

At Gallup, we are seeing first-hand the benefits of deploying a similar strategy through our partnership with Urbanova, a collaboration of Avista, Itron, McKinstry, The University District, Washington State University and the City of Spokane, focused on leveraging smart cities technology to improve social, environmental and economic resiliency and equity.

In support of Urbanova’s primary objective to “Harness data to gain insights, empower people and solve urban challenges in new ways,” we designed and executed a “Phase 0” qualitative study to help build Urbanova’s research capacity to collect community data to support future smart city technology development. In particular, we first sought to identify the key “pain points” within the Spokane community, especially the University District, which Urbanova projects might seek to address. Secondly, after identifying those key “pain points” we identified how systemic they were within the context of the broader community.

Additionally, to supplement this analysis, we are also examining existing sensory data and other publically available community-level data sources. Through our work in measuring citizen voice through the Gallup World Poll in over 165 countries, we have uncovered that analyzing citizen sentiment data alongside existing community data sets and city-based sensors is a relatively understudied and underutilized way to help advance the social and economic well-being of the urban core. So far we have made significant strides in helping Urbanova prioritize their projects to ensure they align with the priorities of the public and moving forward we believe we are in the early stages of truly building a model for the nation on how to be systematic about leveraging the voice of the citizen to drive smart city development.

The Will of the People Is Needed

If cities are the future then it’s essential for local leaders to double-down on finding new and innovative ways to ensure all residents have a voice at the table. Technological progress has immense benefits, but for many, it has created much anxiety about their own economic fortunes. Those anxieties must be addressed and can’t be solved by creating technology in silos.

City leaders from all sectors have the opportunity to change the paradigm of how we create smart city technology that can address a myriad of issues whether it be around closing health disparities or increasing access to affordable transportation. Technology can be a force to help restore the trust between government and the citizens they serve. Our founder, George Gallup, famously once said, “If democracy is about the will of the people than it’s our job to find out what that will is.” The will of the people just might be that missing link for us to make good on the promise of what a smart city can truly be.

About the Author: Justin Bibb is a Senior Adviser at Gallup where he advises clients in the public, private and nonprofit sectors on strategies to advance the well-being of cities. Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students and citizens than any other organization in the world.

Most City Employees in U.S. Not Engaged by Justin Bibb

by Steven Bosacker and Justin Bibb

Falling revenues, major demographic shifts and rising citizen demands have become the new normal for city governments across the U.S. If city halls want to deliver on their promises to provide high-quality services, they'll need to find better ways to make government run more effectively.

One big way to do that is to view every city employee as a key contributor to their success.

Every single one.

Local elected officials who treat their public workforce as anything less than their No. 1 resource are missing the boat. City employees are usually the largest line item in the budget. They know firsthand the public's concerns because they're on the front lines, and often they exhibit the exact depth of commitment to the community we'd want and expect from such service providers.

The problem is, only 29% of full-time local -- as well as state -- government workers are engaged at work, according to Gallup's 2016 "State of Local and State Government Workers' Engagement in the U.S." report. This mirrors engagement for government workers at the federal level. (Among the U.S. workforce overall, 33% of employees are currently engaged in their jobs.) As a result, 71% of full-time state and local government workers are unhappy or disengaged with their jobs, and this creates a missed opportunity for city administrators to drive innovation and move their communities forward.

Gallup also finds that disengaged employees may meet their job expectations but do not expend discretionary energy or feel passion for their work.

Gallup estimates that a lack of engagement among government employees costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $18 billion per year. That's a high price tag for losing out on this discretionary energy. On the positive side, big productivity gains are possible when local governments fully and creatively deploy that same discretionary energy.

Many cities attempt to measure and increase their employees' engagement and commitment to doing good work through regular employee surveys, often juxtaposed with equally important resident surveys to understand key issues of public concern. Gathering such information about what motivates and activates civil servants isn't just cost-effective -- it's also smart.

Common drivers of high employee engagement include frequently praising and recognizing employees' accomplishments, offering personal and career development opportunities, incorporating employees' ideas, and connecting workers' tasks to overall city goals.

Many cities are succeeding on these fronts. For example, the City of San Antonio offers employees a series of training and mentoring programs, and recently created a dedicated "employee engagement coordinator" position to keep these values front and center.

As partisan gridlock continues to stymie progress in our nation's capital, Americans will look to their local governments to solve our country's most pressing problems. This will require cities to find new ways to create high performance. City government leaders' first step should be to adopt strengths-based practices to help employees identify and develop their innate talents and unlock their full potential.

While this solution isn't necessarily expensive, it will entail some investment. The key requirement, though, will be to exercise the courage and the vision to intentionally create a highly engaged culture in every corner of city government.

Steven Bosacker is the Director of Public Sector Innovation at Living Cities.

Justin Bibb is a Senior Adviser at Gallup.

This blog post is part of a special initiative to highlight the Equipt to Innovate framework, a national initiative led by Living Cities and Governing to equip cities with an integrated, collaborative framework of seven essential elements that define high-performance government and empower innovation.

Entrepreneurial Ambition Wanes Among Nonwhite Students in US by Justin Bibb

By: Justin McCarthy and Justin Bibb


  • 42% plan to start a business, down from 54% in 2011
  • 12-point drop among nonwhites; little change among whites
  • Entrepreneurial ambition remains flat nationally


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Entrepreneurial ambition has receded among racial and ethnic minority students in grades five through 12 in the U.S., according to the latest findings from the Gallup-HOPE Index. Though a majority of nonwhite students (54%) said in 2011 that they intended to start their own business, this figure fell to a new low of 42% in 2016.


These results are based on telephone surveys conducted Sept. 12-Nov. 7, 2016, with a nationally representative sample of 1,006 U.S. students in grades five to 12. While yearly fluctuations among nonwhite students may reflect smaller sample sizes among this group, the drop in entrepreneurial ambition between 2011 and 2016 is significant.

Nonwhite students' entrepreneurial ambition once outpaced white students' to a significant degree, but this edge has nearly evaporated. The 12-percentage-point drop since 2011 in the proportion of nonwhite students saying they plan to start a business puts them on par with white students. While nonwhite students have become less likely to have future business plans, white students' intentions have been steady over the past six years, between 37% and 40%.

However, nonwhite students (50%) remain somewhat more likely than white students (40%) to say they want to invent something that will change the world. This has been the case since the index began tracking the issue in 2011.

Less Than Half of U.S. Students Plan to Start a Business, Invent Something

Overall, about four in 10 U.S. students in grades five to 12 express the intent to start a business (41%). They are slightly more likely (45%) to say they will invent "something that changes the world." These figures have been fairly stable since 2011.

Bottom Line

Grooming the next generation of U.S. entrepreneurs is crucial to addressing the country's slowdown in GDP growth. Less than half of U.S. students in grades five to 12 plan to invent something revolutionary, and they are less likely to say they plan to start their own business.

Among minority students -- a group that once exuded entrepreneurial ambition -- intentions of starting a business sagged last year, whereas those among white students remained stable. Nonwhite students remain more likely to have plans of inventing something, which perhaps could draw out their erstwhile entrepreneurial spirit. The country's long-term economic competitiveness depends on maximizing entrepreneurial energy nationwide and addressing the decline in ambition among nonwhite students. Minority entrepreneurs already face unique challenges that, paired with reduced enthusiasm, could have a larger effect on U.S. entrepreneurship potential more broadly.

U.S. schools' approach to business education is critical to boosting entrepreneurial aspirations among students nationally, and the Gallup-HOPE Index highlights some key opportunities, such as internships and youth-run businesses, that are highly underused as a means of teaching business skills.

To learn more about the entrepreneurial aspirations and energy of U.S. students, read "The 2016 Gallup-HOPE Index: Quantifying the Economic Energy of America's Youth."


The 2016 Gallup-HOPE Index findings are based on results from a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,006 U.S. students in grades five through 12. Telephone interviews were conducted Sept. 12-Nov. 7, 2016. The sampling frame of this study came from the Gallup Daily tracking survey. The frame included respondents who had consented to be re-contacted and indicated that they had children younger than 18. These respondents were re-contacted and screened for school-aged children in grades five through 12 in the household. Permissions were then requested from qualified parents or guardians for their students in grades five through 12 to participate in the Operation HOPE survey. The frame was stratified by race/ethnicity, education and household income, and proportionate selection was used.

For results based on the total sample of students in grades five through 12 (n=1,006), one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is ±3.1 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Learn more about how the Gallup-HOPE Index works.

Ensuring Cleveland's Future in 2015 & Beyond by Justin Bibb

By: Justin M. Bibb

Cleveland is at a critical crossroads. Over the past decade, the city has made tremendous strides in rebounding from the economic downturn that has plagued many post-industrial Midwest cities. More than $4.5bn has been invested in downtown Cleveland over the past five years. In addition, the city is emerging as a magnet for talent attraction as it has experienced a 68% increase in the number of 25-34 year old college graduates since 2006. Yet despite these promising changes, Cleveland faces huge challenges.

According to the Federal Reserve, the city has lost 40% of its population since the 1970s, and recent data from the U.S. Census shows that 34% of residents live in poverty. The city also has a massive skills gap. Currently, 66% of residents are functionally illiterate (having math, reading, or language skills below a 4th grade level); and some neighborhoods have a 95% illiteracy rate. Even more alarming is the fact, that Cleveland is still considered one of the most segregated cities in America with 55% of its population living in homogeneous zip codes.

These challenges will be even more compounded as major demographic shifts, falling revenues, and rising citizen demands have placed an unprecedented amount of pressure on the public sector.

So how can the city address these challenges to be competitive over the next 50 years?

The answer lies in adopting a new model of urban transformation focused on entrepreneurship, equity, and engagement:

Entrepreneurship in the classical sense is most commonly thought of as the process of starting a business or creating a product that generates economic value. Yet, what is often overlooked is the notion of entrepreneurship as a mindset. Entrepreneurs are resilient in the midst of failure. Entrepreneurs have the ability to exploit a perceived weakness as an opportunity. In nowhere is this mindset needed more than in municipal governments. Applying an entrepreneurial mindset to the challenges cities face will lead to policies and an urban service delivery model that is more user-oriented, efficient, and solution-oriented than one focused solely on politics.

Equity must be one of the main criterion for how we view public policy if cities such as Cleveland are to truly thrive. Fundamental to instituting an equity lens into urban revitalization efforts is the collective understanding, buy-in, and support of those impacted most severely by the conditions that have led to the vast socio-economic disparities undermining many American cities. To not meaningfully involve and engage diverse groups in regional and local change models that seek to impact their current and future wellbeing is to marginalize their assets and perpetuate the existing negative outcomes that persist.

Engagement is the last but the most essential element to this new model of urban transformation. Trust in government is at an all-time historical low and many residents living in the urban core feel the social contract between city leaders and citizens is broken. But, by leveraging civic tech and open data tools, governments now have the opportunity to engage residents in community decision-making processes by using publicly-held, trusted, and easily-accessible data to create solutions in their own communities. Encouraging citizens to be more engaged in the policymaking process also promotes high levels of trust and social capital, thereby impacting a city’s bottom line and promoting innovation.

Nonetheless, this new model of urban transformation represents a new playbook for Cleveland, and cities alike, to truly be competitive. It is my hope that 2015 can be known as the beginning of a new era where entrepreneurial, inclusive, and highly-engaged cities become the rule not the exception.

Civic Hackathon Looks for Innovative Ways to Fix Local Government by Justin Bibb

By: Justin Bibb and Nicole Thomas

When you think of innovation, rarely does the term "municipal government" come to mind. But if the United States hopes to maintain its standing as a global economic power, our focus should shift to local decision-makers. Nowhere is this more true than here in Cleveland, where major demographic changes, falling revenues, and rising citizen concerns have placed an unprecedented amount of pressure on city leaders.

From stagnant population growth to persistent poverty, Clevelanders are equally concerned with both the challenges before them and with the pace of meaningful reform. And while there are symbols of a renaissance before us, including stronger schools and investment in economic development, much work remains to ensure true social and economic change.

Hack Cleveland is a group of community members who want to make Cleveland a national model of urban transformation. For those who think hacking is an avenue only for the most technologically advanced among us, please read on. HackCLE was born in response to the death of Tamir Rice when a group of community leaders in business, technology, community development, and education recognized that Cleveland's future depends on adopting a new playbook for change.

Our goal is to use the power of technology to magnify and implement the work of local activists and social justice advocates. A critical component of this work is to involve every community that has a solid set of skills to offer. These skills vary widely -- an understanding of the way your neighborhood works is just as valuable as knowledge of computer programming.

To that end, we are hosting Fix 216, a civic hackathon. Simply put, civic hacking means using technology to create community-centered solutions and improve the efficiency of government processes. Fix 216, to be held Friday, May 29, and Saturday, May 30, will bring together citizens, activists, community leaders, writers, artists and programmers to tackle the systemic problems facing our city, including a skilled workforce, livable neighborhoods, and perhaps most notably, concerns about police violence.  

At Fix 216, participants will debrief the tumultuous last six months in Cleveland regarding policing practices and the city's consent decree negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice. During the Friday convening, participants will discuss the specific challenges they would like to address, and on Saturday, teams will use public data to create solutions. They will also learn about cutting-edge data and tech tools that have been valuable in navigating consent decrees in other cities, such as Camden, New Jersey. These tools are real options for Cleveland that will help restore trust and accountability in community policing.

We have chosen this approach to problem-solving to move beyond the initial steps of community forums and step outside of the tech bubble. Increasingly, American cities, including Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., are developing pragmatic solutions and restoring the social contract between city leaders and the citizens they serve by tapping open data. Open data, accessed through civic hacking, will allow Clevelanders to feel more connected to community decision-making processes by using publicly held, trusted, and easily accessible data to create solutions in their own communities.

HackCLE recognizes our role as a convener, and emphasizes that power and progress be driven by the community as a whole. We acknowledge that our intentions for Fix 216 may expose realities about our community that may be difficult to accept. HackCLE intends to create an atmosphere of trust and honesty during Fix 216, with the expectation that all participants be respectful of the thoughts and opinions shared during the event. We are prepared for meaningful discussion, as we make the case for access and transparency in government, explore ways activists and technologists can work together for intersectional change, and identify opportunities to advocate for reform. HackCLE hopes you will consider exploring what the power of open data in Cleveland could look like at our civic hackathon, Fix 216.

A Next-Gen Approach To Entrepreneurship by Justin Bibb

By: John Campanelli

Jim Clifton is out to create a new Juilliard in Cleveland. 

Instead of music prodigies, this one would be a Juilliard of jobs, focusing on a different kind of genius: the entrepreneur. 

It's tough not to get excited when you listen to Clifton, the longtime CEO of the venerable research and polling company Gallup Inc. His idea just seems to make so much sense. 

First of all, Clifton says many of us believe the most important catalyst for job growth is “innovation.” In truth, it's a degree away from that. 

“Innovation doesn't have value until a customer is standing next to it,” he told me during a phone conversation last week. “The most predictable, reliable place you can find good new jobs is with startups.”

He's not talking about sole proprietorships. These are startups with an owner and at least one full-time employee. 

The special people who create these businesses are the rope on our economy's lawn mower engine, the pistol at the track meet, the green light on the drag-racing strip. These are entrepreneurs. 

And where do these special people come from? 

“Virtually every university has come to the conclusion that you can train it,” Clifton said. “We found that was dead wrong.” 

Instead, he said his team of researchers, after studying about 2,500 successful business owners, discovered that entrepreneurs are born, not made. 

“It's like IQ or your ability to sing,” Clifton said. “It's a gift. It's a neuron configuration.” 

Clifton said Gallup research has shown about 5 in 1,000 people are born with an entrepreneurial gift. The ratio holds true through race, class and gender. 

The research also revealed 10 specific traits that entrepreneurs possess. As you'd expect those talents include off-the-charts confidence, focus, independence, creativity and determination. 

“Most achievers, if you knock them down, they need a way to deal with the fact that they've had a setback,” Clifton said. “These people are more driven. If I knock one of them down, they have a governor that makes them more determined to achieve whatever they're going to achieve.” 

The problem is that unlike IQ, musical ability or athletic prowess, entrepreneurship is not so easy to spot, especially early on. History's great business builders are usually not stars on the football team or cheerleaders. They're often loners and less-than-stellar classroom students. 

So Gallup got to work creating a test to identify entrepreneurs. That test is the basis of the project here. 

Clifton is working with Justin Bibb, a gifted future business leader who's currently working on his MBA and law degree at Case Western Reserve University. 

Their plan is to give every high school student in Cleveland the test, and then place the “business geniuses” into a special program that would provide them scholarships, internships, special courses and a mentor. 

The goal would be to optimize and maximize their gift, exactly as if they were violin prodigies or star point guards. 

With more than 40,000 kids enrolled in the Cleveland public schools, it means that more than 200 future entrepreneurs are in the city alone. Their potential benefit to local employment and GDP is staggering. 

For now, all this is still just an idea. Similar programs are in various stages of planning in Omaha, Neb.; Washington, D.C.; and Detroit. 

In Cleveland, Bibb told me he's looking to meet with allies, business leaders, potential partners and foundations for help. 

Despite the fledgling stages of the program, Clifton sees the end game. 

“Can you imagine if the town started talking about some young kid who was creating the next Intel like they talk about LeBron James? Can you imagine how it would change the town? 

“And they're there, too.”

The Millennial City, Part 3: The Gentrification Reset by Justin Bibb

By: Justin M. Bibb & Ian T. Brown

The Debate

Your city is on the hot seat now. As a city leader you have done your job to bring new energy and vibrancy to dilapidated neighborhoods. Young people have moved downtown. Artisans from across the world have begun to rejuvenate your artistic class. There is a new sense of momentum, but the promise of a true urban renaissance has been complicated by notions of gentrification.

The gentrification debate in America evokes a myriad of impassioned opinions.  Supporters of gentrification argue that developing those neighborhoods that are desirable to middle- and higher-income residents improves a city’s bottom line by creating a stronger tax base, higher property values, and better public services.  Meanwhile opponents argue that gentrification only pushes the poor and working class out, further exacerbating the gap between the haves and the have nots.  Neither side is wrong.  In fact, both are right.  But the issue lies in the fact that we are having the wrong debate. We need to hit the reset button on the issue of gentrification and shift our attention to equity.

The Equity Challenge

Demographic trends facing the United States create a compelling value proposition for cities to adopt an equity framework. According to recent research from the U.S. Census Bureau, more Americans are living in cities now than a decade ago, and much of that urban population is becoming increasingly diverse, both racially and economically.  Yet for far too long, city leaders have failed to recognize how to harness the value of this diversity.  As Richard Florida asserts, “the evidence is mounting that geographical openness and cultural diversity and tolerance are not by-products but key drivers of economic progress.”  However, today too many people are being left out of the urban city success story.

An inclusive economy is imperative for America to remain competitive in the 21st century; yet, significant gaps remain in education, employment, and health among communities of color. For example, 45% percent of all jobs in 2018 are projected to require at least an associate’s degree, but today only 27% of African Americans, 26% of U.S.-born Latinos, and 14% of Latino immigrants have achieved this level of education.  Even more startling is the drastic wealth gap that exists among minorities.  As research from the Center for Global Policy Solutions found, the average African American household owns just 6 cents for every $1 of wealth held by the typical white household.  For Latinos, the average figure is 7 cents; which represents an increase of 1 cent for each group between 2009 and 2011. U.S. cities can’t succeed if we don’t find a way to leverage its people to help close these gaps.

The Millennial Call to Action

As the fastest growing demographic group flocking to the urban core, Millennials are in a prime position to help bring about an equity framework to how we think about revitalizing cities.  The Millennial generation is racially diverse, politically independent, and more optimistic about the future than their peers.  Millennials want to use their talents to bring about change, as 97% prefer using their individual skills to help a cause.  Armed with these beliefs, the DNA of the Millennial Generation is uniquely wired to understand the value proposition of advancing an equity agenda for cities.

From education reform to job creation, the Millennial blueprint for advancing an equity agenda has the potential to revitalize the urban core in a meaningful way.  Enacting such an agenda, however, requires greater buy-in from city leaders to engage Millennials in the policy-making process.  In addition, Millennial urbanites must act as good neighbors and step out of their comfort zone to engage diverse groups, especially those from underserved minority communities.  To not meaningfully involve and engage diverse groups in local change models that seek to impact their current and future wellbeing is to marginalize their assets and perpetuate the existing negative outcomes that persist.

Kansas City: A Model of Best Practice

One city in particular has already begun to show Millennials how to build a broad coalition to create an equity agenda.  In Kansas City, local leaders began to recognize that empowering communities of color was essential to help the city tackle stagnant wages and rising inequality.  Between 1980 and 2010, the minority population of the city increased from 16% to 27%, and that number is expected to increase by another 10% by 2040.  Alongside these trends, the city also witnessed rising gaps in critical health and education outcomes among this growing demographic.  Forty percent of those living in poverty in Kansas City live in the urban core, where a majority of residents are minorities.  Additionally, Kansas City ranks 78th in the country for the number of youth who have dropped out of school and are unemployed, with a disproportionate number begin black and Latino.

Recognizing the need to address these issues of equity, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation launched the Kansas City Digital Inclusion fund to provide new technology and education to help areas with high unemployment get the tools and training they need to succeed.  Through this fund, grantees from local churches, community development organizations, and young entrepreneurs are closing the digital divide to advance economic prosperity.  To help close the minority achievement gap, the Kauffman Foundation launched the Ewing Marion Kauffman Schoolto give urban Kansas City Students the skills to succeed in college, work, and life in the 21st century.  By recruiting young, high-performing teachers and incorporating a curriculum focused on training the next generation of entrepreneurs, the school has yielded significant academic growth in Reading, Math, and Science.

Accepting the Challenge

As Kansas City and other U.S. cities have shown, building a coalition of broad stakeholders to address issues of equity is obtainable.  Once cities have developed innovative strategies to attract and retain Millennials, it becomes our responsibility to make the community better for all, not just a segment of the population. Our generation has the skills, resources, and entrepreneurial energy to make the economic promise of the American city real for everyone.  Let’s do our job, and put in the necessary work to restore that grand bargain.

The Millennial City, Part 2: How to Sell Your City? by Justin Bibb

By: Justin M. Bibb & Ian T. Brown

Your city is on display right now. Your city is one startup at a bustling expo, pitching your idea to a crowd of venture capitalists. Your city is one food truck, parked with a dozen others in a once-unused parking lot, vying for the attention of lunch-goers. Your city is one dot on a spinning globe, hoping to catch the eye of entrepreneurs looking for a new place to call their home.

And I am your customer. I am one of America’s Millennials. My generational cohorts and I are moving from the suburbs back into the city at a faster rate than our country has seen in decades. We are in search of cities with 21st century job markets. We are in search of cities that embrace our active, educated, and socially-conscious sensibilities. Sell us your cities, and we will contribute to them, both economically and socially.

But how does a city sell itself? Cities sells themselves by carefully and deliberately crafting an image – one founded in their unique resources – that will ultimately attract the talent, entrepreneurs and visionary leadership that will drive global competitiveness.

Cities across America are poised and positioned to transform themselves. A few are already success stories. Take Seattle for example. Seattle has become synonymous with technological innovation, with coffee shops replete with its young residents, with dreary but generally tolerable weather. For the second year running, the Economist Intelligence Unit named Seattle to its list of 150 global cities that will shape the world in the coming years. Continuing to attract talent is one of the most important factors in Seattle competing at the global level. Talent drives innovation and makes a city more adaptable when faced with ever-changing world markets. Thanks to its highly-educated population, Seattle’s startups are on par with New York, San Francisco and Boston in terms of securing venture capital.

Austin is another city enjoying economic boom. Like Seattle, this boom has been fueled by 21st century jobs. While Austin benefits from a steady supply of state government and university jobs (making it somewhat recession-proof), it has also attracted numerous tech firms in recent years. As Forbes noted in 2009 – in the midst of America’s recession – Austin was experiencing a dramatic employment growth of 34% over that decade, way ahead of its other tech rivals. This means job opportunities for those graduates coming out of Austin-based universities that might otherwise have sought employment elsewhere. And the Texas policy climate – low taxes and low regulation – makes for a more business-friendly environment. But even more than jobs and policy, Austin has done all it can to preserve – and actively market – its quirky city character. In Austin, weird is still king. Recently, the city opened up a string of unused parking lots to Austin’s army of food trucks and overnight turned the area into a profitable hotbed for culinary entrepreneurs.

Seattle and Austin sell themselves. They have carefully crafted their images, and in doing so are attracting a steady supply of Millennial talent that will drive innovation and competitiveness for years to come.

Rust Belt cities also have a wealth of resources to position themselves as destination cities for Millennials. Excess land on the Great Lakes can be converted into word-class waterfront space. Under-utilized high-rises can be transformed into mixed-use residences that would put residents within walking distance from shops, cafes, and art galleries. Tap into your existing urban housing stock, preserving single-family homes that are within walking distance of hip urban streets. In short, make your urban core a cool place to be single and to raise kids.

And for those Rust Belt cities who moan that harsh winters scare away new residents, it isn’t just about weather. Anyone who had suffered through a dreary Seattle winter or a grueling Austin summer will tell you there’s more to their love of city than climate. And as the Economist argues, size doesn’t matter either. Factors such as good environmental practices, good institutions, and good education are more significant drivers to economic competitiveness.

Yet city leaders shouldn’t think of themselves in competition with just their neighboring towns. Or even just American titans like New York or Boston. Your city is in competition with cities all around the world. Cities are the new unit of global competitiveness, and cities leaders must proactively manage their growth strategies. Economic drivers once reserved for conversations at the national level (such as exports) are now being discussed at the city- and regional-levels.

So what does your city export? For one, it exports its image. Look at Cleveland. Once a symbol of urban decline, Cleveland is ambitiously trying to shed its rust belt and become more global and competitive. One way it is doing that is by looking to attract more international talent to its universities with the hopes that employing them in high-skill jobs will ultimately have a multiplier effect of the local economy. Some cities are referring to these as “welcome-world” campaigns, or campaigns organized to attract promising foreign nationals to their areas.

Cleveland can already claim a more international vibe. For the third straight year, the city will host 30-35 international Fulbright students for a “Cleveland is awesome” weekend before the students go on to their respective universities. And once again, Cleveland State University ranks second in the nation for producing Fulbright scholars of its own. Cities that choose to accept innovative and socially-conscious entrepreneurs – in whatever form or color they take – will ultimately be the best positioned.

Sell us your city with authenticity and vigor, and I promise you will attract the kind of talent, entrepreneurs, and visionary leadership that will help you build and sustain economic prosperity.

The Millennial City: Sell Me Your City by Justin Bibb

By: Justin M. Bibb & Ian T. Brown

Don’t try to sell me on the suburbs. I’m a Millennial, between the ages of 25 and 34. As 2010 U.S. Census numbers confirm, my cohorts and I are moving from the suburbs into the city at a faster rate than we’ve seen in years in the United States. Why is this?

For starters, I’m less inclined to start a family as early as previous generations. I probably won’t get married until later in life (if at all), and I’m more than likely to have fewer children than my parents. And if I’m not starting a family until later, this means I don’t need a house with 2-3 bedrooms or a yard right now. I can instead survive in a smaller living space, such as an apartment closer to the city center, with a view of its bustling urban core. In short, I’m not looking for the suburbs right now for the want of space.

But it’s not just a question of starting a family later in life. It’s also a question of how far my income can go. By living in the city, it means I won’t need a car to make a 30-45 minute commute from home to work. I’m more likely to prefer a short walk or a bike ride to work. If I can use Lyft or a bike share program and forgo buying a car, it’s better for the environment. Moreover, it allows me to save money.

It’s essential that I can make my income go as far as possible. I’m lucky to have the job that I do. Many of my former high school or college classmates struggled to find something after they graduated. Some of us stayed in school and got more degrees with the hopes of being more competitive in the job market. A few of us found jobs – mostly entry-level – with decent starting salaries. Examples of such jobs are working in city government or for a local start-up. These jobs offer opportunities to gain professional experience and to make direct contributions to improving the community where we live. I’m making enough money to rent a one bedroom apartment near work, but not nearly enough to buy a house in the nearby suburbs.

We Millennials – single, active, and educated – don’t need the suburban life right now. We are city dwellers. We have disposable income for rent and for entertainment. We prefer living near bars, art galleries, coffee shops and bus routes. We boost the local economy through our consumption. And we have a general desire to improve the city around us. We join social leagues. We support local farms by joining community-supported agriculture networks. We volunteer to build parks and community gardens. Our aim is to leave the campsite better than we found it.

But keep in mind; we’re not all moving to cities in the high-income regions of California and the Northeast, such as San Francisco, New York, or Washington, DC. In fact, cities like Washington, DC are pricing out its Millennial population because of skyrocketing rental costs. As a recent article shows, some residents are even forced to sub-lease the sunrooms of their one-bedroom apartments just to cover the monthly rent. Millennials are moving to DC at a median age of 26, and migrating out at a median age of 29. This three year window of time is too tight to capture all the creative energy and civic-mindedness that Millennials have to offer. Worse, that level of residential turnover does little to foster community between a city and its residents.

Therefore, cities in the expensive coastal regions are not the only options. States all across America want to keep their creative class – with all its talent and enthusiasm – rather than lose it to other vibrant urban markets. Cleveland, Indianapolis, Omaha, Raleigh – they all want to keep us. And we are willing to live in smaller, more affordable cities, so long as there are jobs. Cities that can attract 21st century industries – such as high-tech, health care, and advanced manufacturing – are the cities that will compete with the coastal elites. And those are the cities that will attract us.

Don’t try to sell me on the suburbs. Instead, sell me on your city. Sell me on the 21st century industries you’ve brought into your area through tax incentives and training programs. Sell me on mixed income land development, with local businesses on the first floor and economic opportunities for all socioeconomic levels. Sell me on smart urban planning, on smart growth, on managed density, and maybe on some bike share or bus stations near my building. And please, sell me on green space. Put a small park amidst a cluster of converted and renovated residential buildings, and I’ll use it on a sunny Saturday.

Sell me on the possibilities of how inclusive, equitable, and sustainable your city can be. And I promise I’ll leave your city better than I found it.


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Cities Need a New Business Model to Compete in the 21st Century by Justin Bibb

By: Justin M. Bibb

To grapple with these challenges, municipal governments must improve the business model of how they operate. Mayors, city councils, and other municipal elected officials need to embrace the new normal and adopt strategies and frameworks to solve problems that aren’t always politically expedient. Working with their public sector clients, Accenture suggests that:

“Governing in the new normal demands that agencies rethink, reinvent and reinvigorate. This means continually and proactively challenging the status quo in everything they do—from administration and operations to collections and service delivery.”

Thus in the case of cities, the vision set by city leaders does matter. In an analysis of the budgetary decisions facing 13 U.S. cities, IBM found that 30% and 60% of the budget-balancing measures adopted by local governments represented one-time savings or revenue generating measures rather than permanent changes to cost structures. If city leaders adopted a new management approach to identify and root out inefficiencies in their operations, they could shed costs without significantly impacting service levels.  Key tools such as participatory budgeting, business process modernization, and technology could all be leveraged to improve the procurement of core services.

Barriers to Success

So what’s holding municipal leaders back?

1. Lack of Public Trust

Across the country, political gridlock and partisanship are at all-time high. Trust in government continues to decline, especially at the local level. According to a 2013 poll conduct by the National League of Cities, only 37% of voters trust their local government. This low level of civic trust makes it increasingly difficult for city leaders to galvanize the public around transformative ideas to drive critical policy outcomes.

2. Federal Disinvestment

Since the end of WWII, urban disinvestment has accelerated and been encouraged by federal policies that promoted suburban flight. This took place simultaneously alongside deindustrialization and automobile-oriented sprawl triggering massive job and population losses.  The federal government has the opportunity to play an important role in encouraging cities to be more entrepreneurial in how they govern. By leveraging existing federal resources and encouraging investment into distressed urban areas, the federal government can be a conduit to empower municipal leaders to pursue more innovative policies.

3. Leading with the Wrong Metrics

For most municipal leaders, they judge their success based on traditional measures such as the local unemployment rate, small business starts, and property values. Yet, rarely do we consider the driving forces that impact these metrics. Through their work in understanding community engagement, the Knight Foundation has discovered that attachment to place is driven more by factors such as diversity, community aesthetics, and wealth of social offerings rather than just perceptions of the local economy. If municipal governments developed and articulated their policies with this perspective, they could go a long way in creating more targeted policies aimed at addressing some of the root causes of urban decline.

Translating Better Municipal Management to Greater Urban Economic Opportunity

Putting these ideas into action isn’t a small task. Especially as falling revenues, demographic shifts, rising citizen demands, and new technologies continue to converge to create a complex environment for city leaders. While daunting, city governments can turn these challenges into an opportunity to seek higher performance; which can yield tremendous economic benefits to their citizens.

                          Mayor Pete Buttigieg, South Bend, Indiana

                          Mayor Pete Buttigieg, South Bend, Indiana

Specifically, transitioning into a more innovative operating model for municipal government could help create:

  • Government-wide collaboration around outcomes
  • Flexible and tailored service delivery strategies
  • Technology-enabled citizen participation
  • Open, transparent and accountable government

Across the country, there are already great models where city leaders are innovating to increase the economic opportunity of their cities. For example, Mayor Mike Bell of Toledo developed a successful public-private partnership with the local chamber of commerce to attract more than $6 million worth of foreign investment, a new metalworking plant, and an additional $200M commitment from Chinese investors to support local economic development efforts. “For little old Podunk, Ohio, it’s been pretty phenomenal what we’ve been able to do,” said Dean Monske, president and chief executive of the Toledo Regional Growth Partnership. In South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg worked with a local start-up, called EmNet, to became the first city in the world to migrate its sewer system to the cloud, saving them of $100M in future costs. For Mayor Buttigieg, his philosophy is “all about taking the value of data and shaping them into answers to help solve big problems.”

Through these examples it’s easy to see why now is the right time to develop a renewed commitment to encourage greater innovation in municipal government. Let’s hope American cities don’t get left behind.