Last night, I returned from San Francisco, where I attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors 83rd annual meeting. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is the current president of the organization, and the theme of his presidency has been Cities 3.0. As one might expect of a conference in the Bay Area, sponsors of the event included Salesforce, Google, Waze, Uber, Lyft and Zipcar. And Sal Khan of Khan Academy and Brian Chesky of Airbnb were two of the Plenary Session speakers.
But it was the Technology and Innovation Task Force that made the conference theme resonate with me. Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, explained her theory on the meaning of Cities 3.0. She remarked that the 1.0 era for cities featured leaders using whatever means they had available – from carrier pigeons to space shuttles – to accomplish their mission. The 2.0 era focused on the role of social media in facilitating conversations within a new digital space. But for Smith, 3.0 cities foster true connection and meaningful engagement to build community. A 3.0 city calls upon the ingenuity of its citizenry, and provides a platform for good ideas to emerge and for creative problem-solving to take shape.
I was pleasantly surprised at the direction the conversation went. Too often discussions of innovation – particularly in local government – are focused on comparing tools rather than evaluating impact. As Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti noted, cities can spend a great deal of time creating a signature app that addresses their constituents’ every concern, but their efforts will be futile if no one uses it. Meeting people where they are at – within the community and in a digital space – must be the goal of municipal innovation. And making government more accessible and in tune with what people need must be the focus of local leaders.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was on the Technology & Innovation Task Force panel as well. He talked about cities being “built to last” as the old paradigm – that the strength and success of a community used to be measured by its ability to withstand trying times. He challenged mayors to move away from that way of thinking and to adopt a new paradigm that encourages and embraces innovation, in which strong cities are actually “designed for change.” This made a lot of sense to me in thinking about where West Hollywood has yet to grow.
After 30 years of cityhood, West Hollywood has more than proven our ability to last. With an $80 million + annual budget, $100 million in reserves and a triple-A bond rating, the city is fiscally secure because of sound financial leadership. Our streets are free of potholes, our trash is collected on time, and more and more people everyday look to call West Hollywood their home. We have been resilient in providing human services for diverse constituencies, even in the face of the Great Recession. No longer are onlookers questioning whether we can make it; they are asking how we do it so that they can learn from our example. As mayor, I am proud that West Hollywood continues to set the bar high.
In thinking about what West Hollywood needs to do to become a 3.0 city – to become a city that is designed for change – I am reminded of a quote from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the Conference: “If we’re going to re-stitch the fraying fabric of our communities, we are all going to have to step up and get engaged.” This means making room for more and different voices to be part of the conversation, and changing the way City Hall operates to meet the needs of an evolving community. The recently eliminated Council deputy program is just one example of a change at City Hall that was long overdue to better serve the people of West Hollywood. I expect the Ethics Task Force to bring forward suggestions for additional reform that will increase engagement and trust in City Hall as well.
At the conference, Mayor Garcetti talked about the open data platform that his administration created to share valuable information with Angelenos looking to solve the problems they see in their communities. I would like to see West Hollywood move in that direction too. I believe some of the best answers for our city’s 21st century problems will come from outside of City Hall. To ensure those answers are heard, it is the responsibility of our government to empower the community with information; to be receptive, flexible, and open to new ideas; and to create a platform that directly and meaningfully engages people in their city.
President Obama contrasted the dysfunction of federal politics with the effectiveness of local government by saying, “Mayors understand when there’s a conflict between ideology and reality, you opt for reality.” The reality for West Hollywood is that our success as a city has brought about new challenges. Affordability, sustainability, and livability are real issues facing our city, and we all need to work together to find real solutions to these problems. I welcome your input, ideas, and feedback – regardless of whether you voted for me in the past or would like to in the future. I want our Creative City to be one that’s designed for change and includes more and different voices; I ask for your help in making that our new reality.
Lindsey Horvath is the mayor of West Hollywood.