As the Northern Hemisphere braces for the holiday season and its accompanying wintry weather, we at CUI wanted to offer up an option for reading material through our break, December 12th through January 9th. While we’ll still have two more blog posts before going on hiatus, below is the summary (and some links for further reading) on a recent development in an important topic to all cities, housing.
The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) was held from 17 to 20 October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador, and concluded with the adoption of the New Urban Agenda as the primary product of the one-every-20-years Conference. This Agenda acknowledges the speed and importance of the increase in urbanization worldwide, and cities’ unique ability to guide and support sustainability efforts going into the future. The Agenda sets global standards for truly sustainable urban development that also focuses on equity.
The Habitat III press kit contains concise, intriguing information on the conference, Habitats I and II, and more.
Press coverage, such as by CityLab and the BBC was generally positive, though global development organization Devex criticized the New Urban Agenda’s lack of specificity, while The Guardian questioned equity of Quito residents’ inability to participate.
Within the industry, Smart Cities-oriented organization 100 Resilient Cities released a post discussing how the work done at the conference ties into other urbanization concerns, such as gender equality.
With the passage of the 1975 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HDMA), Congress required American banks to disclose data about where they lent for homes, in order to determine patterns of investment after mounting evidence emerged indicating that discriminatory lending and disinvestment since the 1930s (“redlining”) was negatively impacting the quality of life for urban areas and exposing residents to potentially abusive credit terms.HDMA’s disclosure requirements were updated in 1989 to include the reporting of race and ethnicity on the level of the individual borrower, and the resulting data serves as a useful measure of progress toward more equitable lending.Legislation like the HDMA, the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) were intended to tackle structural inequalities difficult to remedy using 1960s civil rights laws, and originated in grassroots campaigns by neighborhood activists like Chicago’s Gale Cincotta.To this day, some local groups have succeeded in leveraging improved credit access through HDMA and CRA, and an estimated $1.7 trillion was redirected to urban areas already by 2004 as a result of such legislation.
Nevertheless, studies indicate that African Americans and Latinos continue to be disadvantaged in home mortgage markets.Especially in the wake of the Great Recession and subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, it is important to understand how housing policy continues to produce unequal outcomes.HDMA and CRA have had their shortcomings and limitations, but still serve in protecting the opportunities for minority homeowners to build wealth.Whether they will continue to do so is an open question, with even stricter reporting requirements debuting through 2018 currently meeting considerable pushback from the banking industry.
Allen Hydeis an Assistant Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of History and Sociology, who along with coauthor Professor Mary Fischer of the University of Connecticut, analyzes HMDA data to study the seemingly counterintuitive relationship between increased Latino access to mortgage financing in the lead-up to the 2008 housing crisis, and higher observable levels of segregation.Whereas existing research on Latino homeownership has been largely limited to historic areas of residency, Professor Hyde focuses on newer destination cities in the country’s interior and the South, of which Atlanta is one.He answered several questions on what this data can tell us and about national and local patterns of Latino homeownership.
TM:What are Latino “new destinations,” and what does it mean that we seem to be seeing simultaneously rising homeownership among Latinos alongside increasing segregation rates in these cities?
AH: Starting in the 1980s, changes in immigration policy and the economy shifted Latino migration away from cities in established destination areas like California, Texas, and Florida to “new destinations,” often located in the South and Midwest. Latino communities have been developing over the last few decades in medium to large Southern cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, and Washington, D.C., meaning they moved into areas that have historically been overwhelmingly either black or white. Because Latinos were a small percentage of the population and thus were less likely to be pushed into racialized neighborhoods, they tended to be less segregated in new destinations in the 1980s and 1990s. However, other scholars like Daniel Lichter, Matthew Hall, and colleagues note that Latino-white segregation in such cities has increased rather dramatically over the last decade or so. Interestingly, this has simultaneously come at a time when Latinos have seen rising incomes and increased homeownership as a result of the Housing Boom of the early-mid 2000s. Given that homeownership signifies higher status and the achievement of the American Dream, one would predict that Latino homeowners may be less segregated from whites than their Latino renting counterparts. My colleague Mary J. Fischer and I are conducting research to determine if new Latino homeowners, as opposed to renters, still find themselves in segregated neighborhoods in new destination cities during the Housing Boom.
TM:How has this played out in Atlanta?Will you give us more of a sense of the Latino population dynamics and homeownership pattern here?
AH: Our research can speak to what is happening in Atlanta in several ways. First, Latinos are the largest ethnic grouping within Atlanta’s immigrant population, after Asians. Second, Atlanta, and Georgia more generally, has experienced dramatic growth in its Latino population. Most Latino Atlantans have origins from Mexico; however, there are sizable Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan populations, as well as communities from other parts of Latin America. Furthermore, Atlanta is a diverse but segregated city. As of 2010, Latino-white segregation was substantially lower than black-white segregation, but was still moderately high.
Overall, Atlanta is emblematic of Latino migration patterns for new destinations, which comes with both good news and bad news according to our research. Increased socioeconomic status and homeownership should decrease segregation between whites and Latinos, thus policies that promote homeownership can be used to promote integration in the metro area. However, subprime loans, predatory lending, and other real estate practices can potentially negate the positives of homeownership. Local real estate agents and mortgage lenders should be required to provide full disclosure on the details of fixed versus adjustable rate mortgages to their customers, and they should be trained to recognize and avoid racial and ethnic biases that may seep into their everyday practices.
At the same time, Atlanta’s relatively high levels of racial residential segregation raise questions about where Latino newcomers fit into the existing racial/spatial hierarchy. It is unclear whether we can expect homeownership to reduce segregation for Latinos in the future. This depends on the extent to which racialized housing markets for Latinos develop, as well as the neighborhood ethnic preferences of whites in response to demographic changes in their communities (which are especially difficult to address through policy). Finally, escaping to the suburbsno longer means upward mobility in economic and social status. Poverty rates have been increasing in the suburbs while we have seen middle class whites begin to return to the city through gentrification. These patterns will shape the neighborhood compositions of the Atlanta metropolitan area over the next decade or so.
TM:How has HMDA data traditionally been used by researchers, and do you have any general thoughts on the particular usefulness of such public data sets, in what they can tell us about lending and homeownership patterns and policymaking?
AH: HMDA data have traditionally been used by economists to look at patterns of loan denial, subprime lending, and “redlining.” These studies are more in line with the original intent of HMDA, which was to aid in the enforcement of fair lending laws. We are using these data in a somewhat different way to look at the neighborhood characteristics of new homebuyers. This type of detailed, individual level data is not publicly available at the neighborhood level of geography through other data sources with housing information, such as the U.S. Census, American Community Survey, and American Housing Survey. The annual nature of it in addition to the fact that it is whole population data (e.g., not a sample), makes it a particularly powerful dataset to test theories of neighborhood access and assess changes over time. While longer historical perspectives on race, ethnicity, and homeownership are important, we decided to focus on the period 2000 forward because this included the peak of the housing boom, as well as the bust so that we could see whether neighborhood access for Latinos changed in the wake of broader housing market shifts.
The Handbook of Manufacturing Industries in the World Economy, edited by John Bryson of the Birmingham Business School, Jennifer Clark of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Vida Vanchan of Buffalo State is now available in a paperback edition.
The Handbook of Manufacturing Industries in the World Economy provides a critical and multi-disciplinary state-of-the-art review and analysis of current manufacturing processes, practices and policies. Expanding our knowledge and understanding of production and innovation, this collection demonstrates that manufacturing continues to matter in the world economy.
The contributors, including scholars ranging from engineering to policy to economic geography, cover manufacturing policy and the revival of the industrial base in the US, UK and Canada and engage national and regional strategies for implementing advanced manufacturing policies. Questions of economic resilience in the wake of the recent recession are asked, and industry and firm case studies are utilized in an international comparative context. Applying a wide range of international cases from the US, EU, Australia and Asia, this approach allows readers to view transformations in production systems and processes across sectors, technologies and industries.
Students, scholars and policymakers in the fields of public policy, economic geography, city and regional planning, and business and management will find this collection invaluable in understanding how firms and industries adapt, through dynamic and design-driven strategies, to produce for established and emerging markets.
Chapters highlight how firms and industries modify existing processes to produce for established and emerging markets through dynamic and design-driven strategies. This approach allows readers to view transformations in production systems and processes across sectors, technologies and industries.
In the foreword, Sir Mike Gregory from the University of Cambridge, UK comments, “This book represents a major contribution to our thinking about modern manufacturing industries – and is not just timely, it is long overdue! The authors have done an outstanding job in bringing to bear a range of multi-disciplinary perspectives on a domain which all too often suffers from rather narrow disciplinary analyses. Ranging from engineering to social science and drawing on examples from the US, Europe and Asia, the book provides not only a wealth of fact and illustration but a rich landscape to inform those charged with industrial policy and manufacturing strategies.”
In his book review in Economic Geography, Douglas Gress wrote, ‘In [The]Handbook of Manufacturing Industries in the World Economy, editors Bryson, Clark, and Vanchan offer up a welcome addition to the manufacturing literature replete with valuable contributions from immensely competent researchers . . . The strengths of the Handbook are immediately apparent, and include the fact that contributions are provided by seasoned scholars, active scholars in mid-career, and budding scholars alike. The editors have thus ensured that the Handbook is well grounded while remaining topically fresh.’
Frank Giarratani, Center for Industry Studies, University of Pittsburgh further commented on the book that, ‘As industry practitioners know well from experience, generalization is hard to come by. Whether it’s manufacturing, services, or something in between, it’s the details that seem to matter most when it comes to determining outcomes. The value in this book is enormous because details tell the stories across a diverse set of industries. I applaud the editors and authors on their substantial achievement. Manufacturing and related supply chains are dynamic, and this book is rich with information that offers deeper understanding about the processes involved.’
While voluntary inclusionary zoning can take many different forms, these policies essentially form the “carrot” to mandatory inclusionary zoning’s “stick,” offering developers optional but enticing benefits in exchange for producing affordable units within their developments. These benefits can range from minor administrative boons like fee waivers, to zoning variances of a reduced parking requirement, to increasing the permissible density of units, or even monetary incentives like tax abatements — a form of voluntary inclusionary zoning that begins to overlap with supply-side subsidies.
Subsidies, rather than mandating or coercing developer action, represent a monetary outlay from the government to encourage the desired behaviors, and come in three major forms: demand-side subsidies, public housing, and supply-side subsidies. Demand-side subsidies operate by extending a benefit directly to individual lower-income families in need of housing, generally in the form of a voucher intended to cover the gap between the market-rate and an affordable one (at 30% of the recipients’ income). These subsidies make up HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program, funded at the federal level and administered by subordinate localities. While still the largest affordable housing program nationwide, it has come under fire for its notoriously long waiting lists, concentration of poverty (due to a flaws in rent calculation and higher-end landlords often refusing vouchers), and upwards pressure on market rents.
Vouchers were initially designed to take over for the second subsidy approach, public housing. Public housing projects were an attempt on the government’s part to directly provide the lower-income housing needed. Like vouchers currently, in their heyday public housing project were notorious for concentrating poverty, as well as for unhealthy building conditions, high crime, and stigma. Because of these failures, HUD discontinued these programs in the late 1980s (though some public housing developments continue to operate), and instead turned to the third and final category of affordable housing support: supply-side subsidies.
Supply-side subsidies are a monetary incentive given to developers to produce affordable units within their otherwise market-rate developments. Unlike inclusionary zoning as such, these programs explicitly serve as part of the funding stream for the project and are often subjected to a ‘but-for’ analysis (the project could not otherwise be built without the subsidy). There are a variety of such programs at the federal, state, and local levels, the largest of which is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), but all of which share the essential character of funding unit construction through developers.
Compared to the difficulties mandatory inclusionary zoning faces, the way is far clearer for voluntary policies. Indeed, Atlanta already has several policies that fall under this umbrella, one of which is the Affordable Housing Impact Statement (Atlanta, GA Municipal Code § 54.2). While not affecting developers directly, it requires a statement indicating the number of affordable units added or lost be made publicly available for any legislation that might impact the housing stock, increasing transparency and lobbying power. Within the region, Fulton County adopted a voluntary inclusionary zoning program that lasted two years and offered a wide range of benefits for developers, who participated either by building units or paying fees-in-lieu during the 2007-9 ordinance activation window (Fulton County, GA Municipal Code § 4.26). Invest Atlanta offers an attractive tax abatement schedule and fee waivers for developers who include workforce housing in projects constructed in Urban Enterprise Zones, and also waves impact fees for affordable units (GA Municipal Code § 19.1001-24). The Atlanta City Council passed a voluntary zoning ordinance in 2013 that provides incentive “points,” scheduled by the number of affordable units, the extent of the affordability, and the presence of other amenities. These points can be exchanged for benefits including a density bonus (up to 120% of the existing maximum), removal of parking requirements, and reduced yard requirements (Atlanta, GA Municipal Code § 16.37). This option seems to have been largely unused by most developers, especially the density bonus, which goes unneeded as many Atlanta developers do not currently max out their ordinarily allowed densities — a similar problem to the history of failure seen in Atlanta’s attempts at Transferable Development Rights programs.
Subsidy efforts also have a good legal outlook. Vouchers are fully supported by law, and the recipients thereof are protected from administrative discrimination. However, like most of the nation, Atlanta does not have any source-of-income protections and it is therefore perfectly legal for landlords to refuse voucher-holders — leaving recipients trapped in the few low-income, high-crime neighborhoods that will accept vouchers, despite the program’s best intentions.
Finally, supply-side subsidies are the most popular and politically palatable form of affordable housing instrument available in Atlanta. While each source of funding has its own programmatic rules, there is relatively little other legislation in effect on subsidies. The only major legal change of note for federal subsidy provision is the recent (2015) case of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc, in which the Supreme Court ruled that disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act (576 No. 13-1371 2015). This means that plaintiffs may sue a housing department or other jurisdiction for distributing those funds to proposed developments in a way that would have a disparate impact, such as by clustering low-income housing in only a few neighborhoods. This increased scrutiny could have substantial implications for the subsidy allocation process, as jurisdictions must now re-evaluate their project approval criteria for discriminatory outcomes, especially in the area of income mixing. This in particular is contrary to established practice, which encouraged 100% affordable (if privately owned) projects to be built, a unit-mixing structure that is now considered unsuitable and concentrating of poverty. It remains to be seen if housing advocates will actively pursue this newly open legality to increase the level of mixed-income communities being funded through supply-side methods.
What, then, are some practical routes for pursuing affordable housing in Atlanta? There are a number of measures local politicians could put into place. First, the city council might approve zoning measures to downzone maximum acceptable densities in hot neighborhoods, forcing developers there to use the voluntary inclusionary measures to make a better profit. Next, a source-of-income protection ordinance could be passed, protecting voucher-holders from rejection due to voucher use. Thus far, there have been no successful challenges to such ordinances in any of the 44 locales and 11 states that have this protection, suggesting that Atlanta would likely see success with such an ordinance. Third, Atlanta might consider a measure parallel to House Bill H.R. 2231 (the Public Housing Tenant Protection and Reinvestment Act of 2015), which would mandate an equal number of new units of public housing be constructed for every unit torn down. While this measure seems a bit too-little, too-late for Atlanta, it would protect the 8,200 units that still exist, which are a unique, non-renewable resource. By employing any, or ideally all, of these legally defensible changes, Atlanta could take concrete steps to ensure an affordable future for all residents.
It is well established that flexible labor markets have changed work practices in the US. However, much less is known about how flexible work practices have produced and are producing flexible workspaces. Our research on coworking spaces illustrates how labor market flexibility has not only defined new employment practices but also created an emerging industry of coworking firms that provide workspaces — and workplace services — to a growing cohort of American workers for whom flexibility is a occupational norm rather than an occasional career condition.
In our research we have constructed a database of 662 active coworking spaces within the continental United States. From this sample, we analyzed the spatial distribution of coworking firms across the US. From the set of 662 coworking spaces, we then created a geographically proportional subsample of 116 spaces to research more detailed information on the offerings, business models, and characteristics of coworking firms. Below we report our initial empirical findings.
First, defining coworking firms has been an empirical challenge for researchers. In an early study, Clay Spinuzzi argued that coworking — as a space — physicalizes the community and professional network many workers have been missing as freelancers, small business owners, and remote or contract workers. Here, we shift the approach to look at coworking through economic terms and focus on what coworking firms provide users. In other words, we define coworking firms by how and in what ways they commodify workspace as a service. The table below defines the four key value propositions we identified through our analysis of the firms in our dataset: 1) Space-as-a-Service; 2) Community, 3) Professional Network, and 4) Work-Life Balance. In our research, 100 percent of coworking firms provided 1) Space as a Service and 95 percent of coworking firms provided 2) Community. As a consequence we consider these two value propositions defining characteristics of the industry in its present form.
Access to affordable office space and office infrastructure (WiFi, furniture, HVAC, mailboxes, etc.)
Access to other workers who can provide important-yet-missing social interaction for freelancers, remote workers, contract workers, and small businesses
Access to a network of both potential peers and clients, and access to opportunities to learn best practices and new skills, as well as find investment and new business opportunities
Access to a work style that allows for a better balance between the demands of a personal and professional identity
Mapping Coworking: Flexible Work in Cities
The first major finding from this research is that coworking is an urban phenomenon. Of the 662 spaces in our database, only one space is located outside of a US metro region. The vast majority of the remaining 661 spaces are located in major metro areas across the United States (see table and map).
We found coworking firms concentrated in large metro regions. This stands to reason because coworking firms, like temporary employment firms, will concentrate in places with large labor markets. We tested the hypothesis that coworking firms were concentrated in places with a significant presence of “creative class” workers — the high-tech workers associated with narratives about workers who choose flexibility rather than permanent employment relationships.
We also looked at whether population growth corresponded with the rise of coworking spaces in a given region. The table below presents our initial findings.
Top 10 Metropolitan Statistical Areas with High Concentrations of Coworking Locations and Their Percent of “Creative Class” Occupations, 2016
Metropolitan Statistical Area
Number of Coworking Locations
Population, 2015 estimate (ranking)*
Population Growth 2010-2015*
Creative Class Location Quotient**
Super Creative Core Location Quotient**
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA
*Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015, Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Release Date: March 2016
**Combination of reported counts for occupation categories originally specified by Florida (2012) and later modified (Florida 2016) [see footnote 6 & 7]
***Occupation data collected for the Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH Metropolitan NECTA. #MSA Averages are calculated based on data available for all MSAs (LSAD M1), except for occupational reporting. Creative class and super creative core location quotients includes a combination of MSAs and NECTAs (LSAD M5). †Average number of coworking spaces includes MSAs where no coworking spaces were recorded. Actual calculated average value mean is 1.67 (median: 0; mode: 0). ††Median MSA population change: 0.86% ‡Median creative class location quotient: 0.89 ‡‡Median super creative core location quotient: 0.87
We concluded from this analysis that neither the presence of creative class occupation nor the pace of population growth in a given metro area fully explains the growth of coworking firms. The map below provides some additional support for our conclusion: coworking concentrates in urban labor markets, but variation across urban labor markets has yet to be fully explained.
Our second major finding is that the coworking industry is comprised of two types of firms: single-location firms and multi-sited franchises. This is consistent with the practices that emerged in the temporary employment services industry where large firms such as Adecco and Kelly set up global franchise operations while local temporary service firms emerged in individual cities working in competition and in collaboration with the larger, multi-sited firms in the industry.
Coworking Firms and Number of Individual Operating Locations (Total), 2016
Number of Coworking Firms
Number of Coworking Locations
Firms with one site
Firms with between 2 and 5 sites
Firms with more than 5 sites
Geographic Coverage of Large Coworking Firms, 2016
Active Spaces Within US
Mid-Atlantic & Northeast
Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South, & Mid-West
Mid-Atlantic & Mid-West
Coworking is still a new industry so we do not yet have evidence of how and in what ways the large firms will interact with the single site locations and whether they will compete on the basis of service offerings. We did find that most coworking spaces are private firms that allow membership-based access. Our assessment of the variation in offerings by firm versus by site indicates that there is little variation in core services at present. Further research is planned to ascertain whether variation in core services is, in fact, driven by variation in the labor market (geography) rather than competitive firm strategies.
Frequency of Common Coworking Offerings by Firm and Location, 2016
By Firm (Percent)
By Individual Site (Percent)
Wireless Network Access
Mailbox and/or Mail Services
Coffee and/or Tea
Community# (Social Interaction)
Professional Development## (Professional Network)
Work-Life Support# (Work-Life Balance)
#Social Interaction refers to language on websites that refers to the benefit of being near other workers, either in terms of camaraderie or collaboration. ##Professional Development includes informal learning (e.g. lunch-and-learns), professional panels, networking events (e.g. meet-ups), and members-only events ###Work-Life Support refers to various listed amenities such as relaxation areas, gym access, bike storage, dog-friendliness, and wellness programs (i.e. on-site yoga or massage).
In 2014, my CUI colleague, Taylor Shelton wrote an article entitled the “Actually Existing ‘Smart City’,” which discussed examples of the idealized smart city, typically in the form of generating and installing new technologies and forms of data-gathering, which may be intended to support a particular civic purpose or might also apparently be for the sake of the technology itself. The article problematized the exclusively technical orientation of much of smart cities practice, but overlooked a deeper question that many researchers and policymakers in the emerging industry have ignored: what is, and more importantly, what should be the definition of this “smart city” that is thought to perhaps “actually exist” among current cities?
When such a question is proposed, of course answers will vary based on the background and experiences of the expert consulted. Mostly commonly, the smart city is held to be an urbanized district — not necessarily the entire city itself — with closely integrated technologies, such as sensor arrays and other data-collection tools and hi-tech efficiency boosts to existing systems. Those with a more public-minded bent may bring up civic hackathons and the ideal of greater connection between governments and the governed, though both the technological know-how (discussed here by CUI contributor Thomas Lodato) required to participate and the sometimes moribund nature of governments in an era of neoliberal devolution makes the enthusiasm for such efforts perhaps misplaced. For those with an eye to the oft-neglected physicality of government provision, international smart cities development calls into sharp relief the risk of prioritizing “hot” (and often invisible) smart city interventions with expensive, time-consuming, unpopular infrastructure construction, even as other experts call for additional infrastructure emplacements in order to support further smart city developments. However, these approaches seldom consider the existing structure and nature of the cities upon which these new technologies are grafted.
This is hardly the first age in which an influx of new technologies, driven forward by commercial interests, drastically reshaped urban life as we know it. Certain changes are well-known and oft-discussed, such as industrialization’s reshaping and intensification of the density and bustle of city life, coupled with new high-quality steel, inspired everything from the dumbbell tenement to the beginnings of the city planning profession. Likewise, we are still feeling the ongoing effects of the changes begun a scant handful of decades later, when the personal automobile began exponentially accelerating the streetcar-driven stirrings of suburbanization, creating previously unimaginable, and perhaps fundamentally ungovernable, urban sprawls. Indeed, not only did cities create the original information technology of writing, as Townsend noted, but they were also undone by technology — and government mismanagement thereof — as early as 1788 B.C.E. In Ur (in Mesopotamia), a poorly-executed government crackdown on predatory lending practices (enabled by the financially sophisticated cuneiform-on-clay contracts of the time) resulted in major international trade haltage and an accompanying permanent loss in city wealth and status from which it was unable to ever recover. The pace and extent of technological integration has only increased since those earliest known foibles. Therefore, we must be cautious when considering our responses to — and integration of — the increasingly speedy, invisible, and powerful technological interventions associated with the current “actually existing” concept of the smart city, and our redefinition of the same, and the qualities of the city that currently exists in fact.
In this tension between the practical city as it stands today and the technological improvements the “smart city” concept advocates, we may see an echo of the divide between analog and digital signals. Indeed, much like cities, analog signals transmit information via continuous change. Cities aren’t finite, as digital signals are, and neither are they degradation-proof. What’s more, cities are capable of infinite variations, making the addition of “noise” all but guaranteed when attempting to digitize them, just like any other organic source of information. What remains to be seen is if the replicability of digital signals will carry over into the digital city — will we at last be able to see smooth, lossless policy transfers between these new technological marvels, or will their signals be blurred with metaphorical quantization noise, their efficiency reduced? The advocates of “smarter” cities must take care that their playground’s unique profile not be lost to homogenizing forces of universalized best-practices in the name of transnational interoperability divorced from practical necessity. Part of that mandate necessitates integrating all the functions of a currently existing city into the “smart” plan, not just the mechanical.
The recent PCAST report on smart cities echoes the industry-wide trend of smart city proponents privileging the technological over the social and exhibiting disinterest towards equity concerns and established urban studies fields in favor of “gadgets” and new datasets. Smart cities’ technocratic bent parallels the auto orientation of 1940s sprawl into suburbia, and is in particular similarly being pushed by the titans of industry best positioned to benefit, with little regard for the potential for scattered, incoherent “city-let” fragments left in the wake of the improved “urban development districts” (eerily similar to other “district” approaches that have floundered previously) they advocate. The reformers of the previous century — and it has been just about a century — also chased the City Efficient, though they had less sophisticated tools if no less enthusiastic a will. Without a careful consideration of what we do — and what we should — mean by the term “smart city,” however, we are liable to repeat their mistakes as we favor rapid progress over beneficial progress. It is wise to recall that, in some conceptions, government exists to “polish off” the rougher edges of the market, and that it is unlikely the watchman can watch itself in this instance — that is, to employ unmodified technological approaches taken directly from market solutions. Therefore, we must always keep in mind the need to broaden the definition of the smart city beyond the merely technical — indeed, perhaps directly into the kind of “education, healthcare, or social services“ delivery that PCAST handily dismisses.
Finally, in seeking a fuller definition we must consider how much of this smart city proposition — from the specific availability of data on up to the identification of the city as “smart” — is just so much more booster-istic smoke and mirrors? City machines have been lying to their constituents for centuries, generally with the very best kinds of lies — things that are technically true and also completely devoid of meaning. What’s more, one of the best ways to conceal something is to leave it out in the open, data dumped in the name of “openness” left in some forgotten corner languishing amongst so much more digital detritus, and it seems likely that many smart city transparency mandates — and smart city efforts in general — risk this eventual fate. This is where careful policy and outreach may step in for positive change, above and beyond the debatably effective civic hacking seen thus far. Despite Smart Cities author Anthony Townsend’s tidy definition of the smart city as a “[place] where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, and even our bodies to address social, economic, and environmental problems,” in implementation it is not so simple. Even leading practitioners of smart city interventions such as sensor array testbeds and “sentient” homes have struggled to define this ambiguous term — and this difficulty need not be a negative. On the contrary, the moment of ambiguity that “smart city” is experiencing represents a unique opportunity to introduce intentionality to the definition and broaden it beyond its technocratic derivation. By remembering the lessons of our analog past — be it Mesopotamian or merely BetaMax in patina — we can shape a city that is not only “smart,” but truly wise in including the voices of and satisfying the core needs for all its citizens.
This article was originally written in response to a course assignment in a graduate course in urban policy analysis and practice offered in Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy every Fall (PUBP 6604).
On October 13, 2016, President Obama hosted the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hosted the event with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the City of Pittsburgh. The event convened tracks focused on innovations across five domains defined by scale: the personal, the local, the national, the global, and the interplanetary.
The emphasis of the “local” track of the White House Frontiers Conference was the evolving opportunities that technologies provide for cities in terms of health, transportation, public safety, and civic engagement — all pillars of “smart cities.”
A key focus was on data and the need not only to generate more data but to better understand existing data and to gather, manage, curate, and provide access to data across domains and across platforms for communities and other stakeholders. This is, in part, a consequence of OSTP’s recent efforts to stimulate research networks and research questions geared toward an emergent US smart cities strategy through two key activities:
First, OSTP launched the MetroLab Network of 20+ city-university partnerships in September 2015 (of which Atlanta and Georgia Tech are founding members). The MetroLab Network was modeled after the city-university partnership formed by Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh — Metro21 — focused particularly on partnering on the design, development, and deployment of transportation projects.
The Frontiers Conference was in many ways an effort to highlight how investment and attention to science and technology policy has stimulated innovation over the past eight years and underscore that these investments are key to the sustained economic resilience of the national as well as urban and local economies. Further, the Frontiers Conference highlighted the validity of an approach in which private, public, and academic researchers partner and collaborate on shared initiatives and clear goals.
The series of PCAST reports on the role of technology in the economy and the meaning of technology for the country — particularly the breadth and coverage of these reports — is significant too. The idea that technological change can drive not just the research agenda or an agency like the National Science Foundation but also influence the research and implementation priorities of agencies like the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Commerce — in a broad and coordinated way — changes the landscape of federal research spending on technology design and diffusion.
The Frontiers Conference showcased the economic and societal value of advances in science and technology and distributed innovation. In other words, one key success factor is facilitating the distribution of innovations across the economy rather than siloed in the research and development labs of large companies and government facilities. Those places make essential contributions as well, but the broad-based opportunities provided by new technology are distributed — both the data that fuels the applications and the technology and shapes the software and the engineering that optimizes the hardware. Whether it is for health, public safety, transportation, economic development, or quality of life, technology diffusion crosses scales and domains. The Frontiers Conference underscored the value of embracing a role for government that facilitates an interdisciplinary approach to innovation.
President Obama hosted the day-long Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, at Carnegie Mellon University, bringing together researchers, business leaders, technologists, philanthropists, local innovators, and students to discuss building U.S. capacity in science and technology. Among the attendees at the invitation-only White House Frontiers Conference were IPaT Executive Director Beth Mynatt and Georgia Tech Center for Urban Innovation Director Jennifer Clark. Click here for a live stream of the event, here for an IPaT article about the Frontiers Conference, or check out the Twitter hashtag, #WHFrontiers.
The goal of these annual meetings is to share innovative policies and projects across the cities and regions of EU member states through direct exchange rather than the top-down replication of the models that filter up from cities and regions to national and EU experts and only then diffuse back down to cities and regions. Instead, the Week of Cities and Regions allows local policy experts to share success stories, challenges, and models directly with each other while simultaneously learning from national and international experts. In other words, the European Week of Cities and Regions has, more than a decade after its first iteration, become a predictable and regular opportunity for policy researchers and designers, as well as those tasked with policy implementation, to check in and check out what works, what doesn’t, and focus on tailoring broad national and regional goals for local implementation.
In 2015, the Center for Urban Innovation’s Director, Jennifer Clark, was invited to talk in Brussels at that year’s European Week of Regions and Cities. Dr. Clark spoke on ‘Working Regions’: Rethinking Regional Manufacturing Policy, during a panel themed around “Rethinking regional-level industrial policies for the ‘new manufacturing.'” The talk highlighted analysis and policies discussed in her 2013 book,Working Regions: Reconnecting Innovation and Production in the Knowledge Economy. Working Regions focuses on policy aimed at building sustainable and resilient regional economies in the wake of the global recession. Using examples of four ‘working regions’ — regions where research and design functions and manufacturing still coexist in the same cities — the book argues for a new approach to regional economic development. It does this by highlighting policies that foster innovation and manufacturing in small firms, focus research centers on pushing innovation down the supply chain, and support dynamic, design-driven firm networks.
For the 2016 European Week of Cities and Regions, Dr. Clark was also invited to speak on the a panel themed: Is EU manufacturing ready for Industry 4.0? on October 13th at the European Commission. Thepanel is organized by Professor Lisa DePropis from the Birmingham Business School at the University of Birmingham and includes Professors Patrizio Bianchi and Steffen Kinkel as well as Dr. Clark. The entire schedule for the European Week of Cities and Regions is available here.
The panel will focus on emerging themes and regional policy issues around manufacturing and Industry 4.0. In 2015, the European Commission (DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs) and the European Parliament started to raise awareness that a new manufacturing model was emerging: this is referred to as Industry 4.0, or smart manufacturing. Technological change, digitalization, and a new demand are driving a ‘production organisation revolution’ that is redefining the nature of the manufacturing sector and its contribution to the wider economy.
Industry 4.0 is argued to mean more servitized — that is, with increased value due to an added service component — and customized manufacturing goods, as well as the pervasive exploitation of key enabling technologies across all sectors. Industry 4.0 is believed to offer a unique opportunity to upgrade EU industrial capability, to reshore competencies and functions, and to repopulate advanced industry systems across regions to secure jobs and prosperity. Despite the hype on Industry 4.0, it is still unclear what the triggers and drivers are in the EU context, and also what its constraints and headwinds might be. Speakers will discuss what it means and what it will take to align EU regions and EU manufacturing sectors to Industry 4.0.
Now, it is true that the EU, as an organization, has been exceedingly active in urban and regional policy design and implementation. For example, the EU’s Cohesion Policies have long sought to promote sustainable growth across EU regions and mitigate inequalities. Recent regional policies include the Smart Specialisation (SP3) and Industry 4.0/smart manufacturing. The US has often left urban and regional policy innovation to the state and local level. What these panels about these particular topics illustrate are the ways in which national policy priorities are necessarily connected to local and regional implementation. And what’s more, they show how that implementation can be more effective when coordinated at the policy design phase, not simply assessed after deployment.
The benefits to the US of engaging in a similar approach — exchanging innovative policy models for urban and regional growth and development — is worth considering, as is its potential advantages for its neighbors, Canada and Mexico. The benefits of that knowledge exchange are well understood in the broader policy community. We at the Center for Urban Innovationhave observed and documented the proliferation of ad hoc policy diffusion networks over the past half-decade across the US (and internationally). Examples include the Bloomberg Foundation’s Innovation Delivery Teams, WeWorkCities, the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, the City Energy Project, and many more.
This ad hoc approach tends to privilege certain places and certain policy priorities. In other words, the participants and the policies promoted are selective rather than representative. Perhaps it is time to create a formal, predictable structure for this exchange of project models and innovative approaches to urban and regional governance. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has moved in this direction with its support of smart cities initiatives, through the launch of city-university partnerships organized through the MetroLab Network. This week, the White House also announced the Local Frontiers track at the White House Frontiers Conference, in which we will participate. This track is another example of a step in the direction paved by the Week of Cities and Regions. Such efforts signal an awareness and recognition of the value of convenings similar to those seen in the EU. The model already exists for a Week of Cities and Regions, and it is a model with a decade long track record of successful knowledge exchange. Is it time for a North America Week of Cities and Regions? It seems we have reached the moment for capturing the promise and potential of urban innovation by acknowledging, valuing, and enabling the work of urban and regional policy professionals across the US by creating our own annual convening of the people who design and conduct policy in our cities and regions.
The Smart City has been an idea in circulation for well over a decade. Now, due to a confluence of factors, certain aspects of the Smart City are quickly manifesting from plan to reality. Distributed sensor networks are being deployed in testbeds within selected cities across the nation to monitor a range of environmental conditions, including in Atlanta. Through social media, average citizens are providing a torrent of data about where they are, what they are doing, and how they are feeling. Video cameras are ubiquitous. What’s more, all of this data is increasingly being networked together, bundled into so-called dashboards. The idea behind these dashboards, testbeds, and in many cases the data collection efforts themselves is that everyday people, as well as government service providers, will be able to use data this to inform themselves, to make better-decisions, to enhance their (and their clients’) lives, and to improve civic conditions. But how can such goals be accomplished?
The prevailing interest, for both researchers and residents, is to work towards articulating a diverse and equitable vision for the Smart City. There have been, and continue to be, plenty of sharp critiques of the idea of smart cities and its implementation. While not being naive, however, many dedicated researchers still believe that participatory research and co-design can contribute to equitable local instantiations of the Smart City by collectively discovering, documenting, and sharing issues and potentials with the technologies being developed and implemented in the pursuit of “smartness.”
In this spirit is a new project known as PARSE (Participatory Approaches to Researching Sensing Environments), which combines design and social science methods to investigate the technologies and services of Smart Cities and more generally what is known as “Civic IoT”—the use of Internet of Things technologies for public life. The project draws upon practices of participatory design to gather together community, municipal government, and industry stakeholders to collaboratively explore the issues and possibilities of distributed sensing in urban settings.
PARSE is comprised of a series of workshops, beginning in October of 2016 and running well into 2017. The workshops will move between locations in order to draw in a more diverse set of stakeholders, with each workshop focusing on a different location and community in Atlanta. The workshops will run approximately two hours each, during which participants will learn about the sensors being deployed in Atlanta as part of the MAPPD project, and then engage in hands-on design activities to create scenarios, use-cases, and service prototypes for the data expected to be generated from these new sensors. Along the way, participants are expected to surface and discuss concerns, ranging from those of privacy to equity and beyond.
The PARSE project exemplifies a kind of community-based design research. It is intended to provide applied, actionable outcomes to inform the subsequent roll-out of Atlanta as a fully-fledged Smart City. The project also contributes to important research questions about the public element of the Smart City ideal. Much of the research into Smart Cities, especially in fields such as human-computer interaction and communication studies, has looked to specific devices and systems. PARSE, by contrast, is oriented towards issues of engagement, and the ways in which design might contribute to forms of material participation in the context of Smart Cities. In particular, researchers are interested in identifying and analyzing alternative modes of civics engagement in the context of neoliberal and technocentric governments, and in theorizing new understandings of data that take into account both community data economies and the affective aspects of data collection and representation.
Of course, PARSE will not be the first project to do this kind work, and its design research draws from experts in the social sciences undertaking similar projects. For instance, the Citizen Sense project demonstrates how a hybrid design and social science approach to environmental monitoring can illuminate a range of possibilities, from more diverse sensor platforms to a more nuanced understanding of the interplay of human and nonhuman agencies in sensing. Similarly, the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) demonstrates a socially engaged approach to environmental monitoring and the possibilities of a civic science — a participatory approach to data collection for the purposes of influencing governmental decision-making.
By combining expertise in design and public policy, PARSE provides a unique contribution to the study of Smart Cities. In addition to comparative case studies and frameworks for analysis and assessment, PARSE aims to contribute design guidelines and use cases to inform both engineering and policy. Organizations such as the Helsinki Design Lab and Public Policy Lab have demonstrated the value of design and policy labs in generating strategies for cities. The PARSE team believes similar efforts are needed with regards to the issues and potentials of Smart Cities. Moreover, these efforts must be open and provide opportunities for meaningful, substantive engagement from diverse stakeholders in shaping what the Smart City is, or will be, if the Smart City is to be equitable, just, and sustainable. PARSE is intended as a step in that important direction.
Last week the City of Atlanta launched its 100 Resilient Cities program (100RC) with a day-long agenda-setting workshop — the first step of an engagement process to develop a robust resilience strategy for the City. Atlanta was selected to be part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100RC program in May 2016 along with thirty-six other cities from around the world, together forming the one-hundred-cities’ cohort of 100RC. The selected cities, which span 6 continents and over 50 countries, receive financing to hire a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), as well as additional logistical and networking support.
Atlanta’s agenda-setting workshop, co-hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, featured a forty-five minute presentation by 100RC President, Michael Berkowitz, a keynote address from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and four facilitated small group activities designed to gauge the participants’ understanding of resiliency and perceptions about Atlanta’s biggest long-term stresses and acute shocks. In addition to these activities, participants were asked to take a pre- and post-workshop online survey on changes in attitude. Students, faculty, and staff from Georgia Tech, including several researchers from CUI, attended the workshop, as both attendees and table facilitators.
What Makes a City Resilient?
Resilience may be defined in several ways depending on the system being studied and the actors involved, including ecological, organizational, or supply-chain system resilience, or resilience of a particular community or individual. In general, resilience refers to adaptation and/or recovery following a disruption to normal operations of a system (Bhamra, Ran et al.). In a forthcoming book chapter, CUI Director Jennifer Clark draws connections between urban resilience and innovation. In it, she writes “resilience speaks to the viability of complex systems to withstand and adapt to change.” For a city that encompasses complex economic, environmental, and social systems, a change or disruption could be in the form of acute shocks, such as flash floods, massive infrastructure failures, heat waves, and blizzards, or from expressions of long-term stresses, such as chronic water shortages, poverty, inequality, pollution, and unemployment.
With more than 50% of the world’s population living in urban areas and climate change acting as a multiplier of many of the above-enumerated shocks and stresses, the role of city government and other stakeholders in weathering these changes and building systems that can withstand and overcome adverse impacts of urbanization and climate change, and the associated social and economic challenges becomes paramount. The IPCC estimates funding requirements for climate-related adaptation efforts in developing countries to be in the order of seventy to one hundred billion dollars a year by 2050 (albeit with low confidence). A UNEP report, however, estimates this gap to be higher by 4-5 times by 2050. Therefore, support from public, private, and non-governmental organizations is crucial for building local capacity for resilience. Several programs such as the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, as well as transnational networks such as 100RC, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, the United Nations Human Settlement Program, and others provide support in the form of financing, information-sharing, and networking opportunities for cities. However, depending on their definition of “resilience” and their inclusion or exclusion of adaptation-related issues, the nature and type of support varies among the above organizations.
100RC defines resilience as the ability of a city to maintain essential functions and to evolve and emerge stronger in the face of acute shocks and chronic stresses. A resilient city, according to the Rockefeller Foundation, is one that is reflective of past experiences, resourceful, exhibits inclusiveness in decision-making, integrates different systems and institutions, is robust, redundant to accommodate disruption to services, and flexible to changing circumstances. Utilizing a City Resilience Framework (CRF, developed by Arup and the Rockefeller Foundation, See Fig. 1 below), the CRO plans interventions to address identified shocks and stresses that span some or all of the dimensions of the CRF. In Medellin, Colombia, for instance, tramlines added to supplement its gondola-based transit system improves the city’s resilience indicators across all of the four dimensions by providing redundancy, contributing to reduction in homicide rates, reducing transit time ,and enhancing social inclusion and integrating regions along the path of transit.
The workshop emphasized several steps as vital to the 100RC initiative. These include the tracking and measurement of metrics in the implementation of the resiliency framework, networking with other member cities from across the world, and learning from their experiences. The implementation of the initiative itself is tied around engaging diverse stakeholders from the city and bringing together different perspectives on what resilience means. Planning and implementation of resilience initiatives is heavily dependent upon the ability of the CRO to work across government silos, bring together diverse stakeholders, and create a concrete plan for increasing the City’s resiliency based on pragmatic, local understanding of prevalent shocks and stresses. In light of the importance of this stakeholder engagement process, it is therefore imperative to evaluate the process of the first agenda-setting workshop that was organized by the 100RC initiative for the City of Atlanta last week, and assess its strengths and weaknesses for consideration towards future stakeholder- engagement processes. This is carried out below.
Building Resiliency Through Public Engagement
Public engagement and participation are necessary for building the institutional capacity of cities (Healy 1997). Atlanta’s workshop last week was the first step in engaging the public in the process of creating a resiliency plan for the City. Feedback from participants and facilitators will be used to prioritize what shocks and stressors the CRO focuses on. During one of the activities, participants worked together to place a number of shocks and stresses on a four part grid to indicate the frequency/likelihood on the horizontal access increasing to the right, and impact on the vertical access increasing upward (see below). At the end of the activity each table shared their top three stresses and shocks with the whole group. Poverty/inequality, lack of social cohesion, lack of affordable housing, and lack of transit options were identified as a top chronic stressors by almost every group, while flooding, extreme temperatures, and infrastructure failures dominated the top acute shock lists.
In the next activity each participant was given 12 stickers, which they placed on the City Resilience Framework diagram (see Figure 1 above) without discussing their choices with others–green stickers next to things the city is doing well, yellow stickers for things the city could do better, and red stickers next to things the city urgently needs to improve. At the table featured below, the green stickers were concentrated around ‘Fosters Economic Prosperity’ and ‘Ensures Public Health Services.’ There was a mix a yellow and red stickers under ‘Meets Basic Needs,’ and red clumps next to ‘Transportation’ and ‘Empowers a Broad Range of Stakeholders.’
Underscoring many of the discussions at the workshop was the recognition that the stresses and shocks facing Atlanta are subjective, varying significantly depending on where in the city you live or work, as well as the social and financial capital to which an individual or neighborhood has access. When planning the workshop, the City intentionally invited a mix of people from the private businesses, government offices, nonprofits, community organizations and academic institutions (see Fig. 2 below for the breakdown of registered guests by sector). Of the 160 people who were registered to attend, 44 were from government (28%), 42 from nonprofits (26%), 22 from academia (14%), 19 from business (12%), 16 were elected official (10%), 16 were community members (10%), and 1 person was from a faith-based organization (less than 1%). It should be noted that the authors do not know how many from each group actually attended.
During the last activity, participants identified stakeholders who were not in the room who they believe should be included in this planning process, such as students, members of the LGBTQ community, private sector representatives, and community members. One participant pointed out that the timing and location of the workshop (it was held at the Carter Center in Northeast Atlanta) may have prevented community members from attending if, for instance, they could not take work off on a Monday.
Global Knowledge Sharing and Local Empowerment
The 100RC initiative provides both opportunities and challenges for the City of Atlanta. Opportunities include the ability to allocate dedicated resources to identifying, tracking, and collaborating with diverse stakeholders to address the City’s vulnerability to shocks and stresses, and learning from, and sharing resources and knowledge with other cities around the world. The major challenges include enabling broad engagement in the political process by taking into account unequal access to resources, and empowering citizens to initiate collaborative problem-solving to address the issues they themselves have identified. Public participation is no longer just about hosting a public meeting to discuss already decided upon alternatives. It is about providing the public with data and resources to come up with their own solutions using their collective creativity and localized understanding of the problems.
In sum, each city has a very localized set of stresses and shocks, and the 100RC Network facilitates cities seeing how others are moving through this process of setting priorities. It enables the city to carve out a dedicated resource and hire a Chief Resilience Officer, and design and implement a resiliency plan. As it proceeds, there is a need to ensure that the subsequent data gathering, the indicators utilized for data gathering, and the resulting decision-making processes are representative and integrate the capacities and constraints of all relevant stakeholders in order to maximize the impact of planned interventions and to build inclusive and robust systems for a truly resilient Atlanta.