The Future City
I was recently invited to participate in a summit convened by the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard University on “The Future City”. Participants included City Managers and County Administrators from more than 40 municipalities in the United States, Ireland, and Italy as well as representatives from leading private firms such as MasterCard, Google, and NTT as well as newer start-up technology companies. Over the course of a few days, we discussed with one another, Harvard faculty, and others the challenges confronting municipalities today and cities of the future and the role that innovation and technology play.
Things to Think About
Topics discussed included the future of innovation, the future of work, harnessing the power of digital for the future, the future of resiliency and sustainability, the future of the economy, and the future of service. Each of these included presentations from thought leaders on the relevant topic, lively discussion, and debate about the information presented and exploration of applicability of the concepts to our own situations.
That all of this was taking place in the lecture hall where Mark Zuckerberg took one of his first computer science courses, in a building that Bill Gates – Harvard’s most notable drop-out, donated funds for, on a campus of the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, within one of the most dynamic and culturally significant urban areas in the world, was an interesting and fitting setting.
The Challenges that Lie Ahead and the Innovative Responses
Much like today, the future of cities includes daunting challenges – inequities, political turmoil, climate upheaval, and more. At the same time, just as always has been the case, cities offer some of the greatest opportunities that may lie ahead. The challenges each of us discussed – upticks in violence, increases in homelessness, struggles with recruiting and retaining talent, more frequent and damaging weather events, etc. regardless of whether our city is in Texas, California, Florida, or Ireland are indeed daunting and risk undermining the success our municipalities have experienced in recent decades. However, the innovations each of us discussed that we are deploying to tackle these challenges is reason for hope – not necessarily guaranteed success, but at least a reason for optimism within these most challenging of times.
I am thankful for having had the opportunity to participate in such a great discussion with a collection of experts and fellow leaders innovating in the trenches and on the frontlines of our cities. I look forward to continuing to interact with and learn from these individuals and organizations as we all work together with our residents and businesses to build the best city – the best Roanoke of the future possible!
-- Bob Cowell