How is technology impacting social and economic divisions in cities?
April 2, 2013, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm PDT
On April 2nd, 2013, Meeting of the Minds and urban accelerator Tumml organized a group blogging event.
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Prompt question: How is technology impacting social and economic divisions in cities?
Participants wrote their response to the prompt question and published it on their blog on April 2nd, 2013.[/colored_box]
Annie E. Casey Foundation Posted at CityMinded.org
…It has become commonplace to refer to cities as “systems of systems.” It is an appealing, but way too tidy notion, one that emphases the tame over the wicked nature of social problems. Our cities are forests, riots, crazy carnivals of systems with different imperatives, rhythms, and logics, which are embedded within still larger systems that link cities with their immediate environments, hinterlands, and the world beyond.
IBM, The San Francisco Planning Commission Posted at CityMinded.org
…The great economic challenge and opportunities for cities will be how to innovate and attract new technologies and the talent they bring, while ensuring that all their residents are able to participate in the innovations that technology has to offer. Some cities are in need of innovators and those places will need to figure out how to build the infrastructure base — schools, universities, jobs – that attract them. The opportunity for the future is using technology to unite voices and communities so that everyone can be at the table. Together – cities, nonprofits, neighborhood groups and the business community must all come together to creatively find ways to deal with these realities.
…At their best, cities are the engine for national prosperity and individual economic opportunity for all people. However, increasingly, the systems designed to make this so are failing as they were built in a different era on now outdated assumptions. The failure of these systems to adapt to changing social, technological, economic, and political forces has led to unprecedented growth in economic disparity. Now, digital technologies and social networks seem to be transforming every aspect of our lives—profoundly reshaping notions of connection and community. These developments have boundless promise for addressing inequality. But, fulfilling this promise will require an intentional and sustained focus on ensuring that transformational technology is applied to address our seemingly intractable social and economic problems.
Here are three ways that, if harnessed effectively, technology can be the great equalizer in cities…
Josh Kirschenbaum, Chris Schildt, and Amber Washington
PolicyLink Posted at EquityBlog.org
Writing from ground zero of the global technology economy in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are in awe of its endless creative power to solve many of the nation’s challenges and bridge social and economic divides in our cities. In lock step with this immense force for change is the American tragedy of race and class divides that, if not addressed, has the potential to limit the transformational potential of technology and deflate its economic might. This is especially true as America continues to become more diverse. In fact, the nation’s ability to achieve sustained growth and prosperity hinges on how quickly we can erase these divides and fully apply everyone’s talents and creativity to building the next economy. Equity—just and fair inclusion into a society where everyone can participate and prosper—is no longer only a moral imperative; it is an economic one that can be accelerated if technology innovators embrace it with the same disruptive gusto that they have brought to bear on everything from taxi services to hotels to advertising.
It would be great for some technologies to focus specifically on problems of neighborhoods like the Tenderloin. People of inner-city neighborhoods don’t always have smartphones and consistent access to the internet. So, instead of creating applications for only for smartphones, technologies created for these populations would focus on the access available. Technologists could also focus on creating solutions for the infrastructure that supports these neighborhoods: technologies that allow police departments to be better at finding problem zones or make paperwork more efficient, allow services departments to streamline processes and keep better track of people in need or people who create problems.
…Mobile technology enables access—to resources, news, information, knowledge, and commerce. With a smartphone, app, and network connectivity a person can pay a bill using banking apps, call another country using Skype, FaceTime or Google Talk, expand their vocabulary using edtech apps like Knowji, deposit and transfer funds, make purchases, put in a pickup order for dinner, participate in the sharing economy, share their location, and much more. These kinds of “concierge” services are not allocated based on the communities you engage with or level of wealth—but are broadly available if you know how to use the technology to reach them…
…More and more planning projects are gathering public input from web sites where residents can identify problems, offer solutions, and even cast votes for ideas they like (or dislike). Take a look, for example, at the “public input web tool” my own hometown of Burlington, Vermont, recently used to gather input for the city’s new downtown and waterfront plan. Or browse through the Engaging Cities planning tools page to get a quick sense of the range of online tools being developed.
But planners are rightfully concerned about the “digital divide” and the fact that many members of the community may not have online access.
So, why then, do I want to take the next few minutes of your time to talk about public libraries?
Posted at CityMinded.org
…The rise of ICTs has diminished the role that long-standing institutions play in many parts of society. Institutions have traditionally provided a structured and cost-effective way for individuals to meet their needs and goals.
As ICTs became pervasive, they inspired a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) culture that encourages people to tap into their own innate potential and immediate networks rather than relying on institutions to accomplish those same goals. DIY culture is a natural result of ubiquitous ICTs; these technologies have dramatically lowered the cost for individuals to accomplish far more of their respective goals using far less time and resources, which rewards the individual with an unprecedented power that can exist entirely outside of any institution.
Many traditional institutional structures simply cannot compete with the DIY culture, which forces them to adapt, become irrelevant or simply be supplanted through disruptive innovation. Consequently, the modern economy’s DIY culture is pulling power away from embedded institutions and delegating it to individuals—particularly networks of individuals—leading to an inevitable transition from an institution-based society to a network-based society.
Urban Age Institute Posted at CityMinded.org
…ICTs are breaking the traditional codes between youth and government. Cheap and ubiquitous cell phones and social media create a daily bond among young citizens and between youth groups and leaders. This phenomenon was non-existent as recently as a decade ago; it represents a potentially momentous change in government-youth relationships. As a veteran youth leader from Kigali noted “A few years ago, a leader would usually go down to the field one day and go back to the same place only one year later. And in between there would be no way to reach him or make him accountable. Now the bond with social media is reaffirmed on a daily basis. Leaders can’t just promise things and disappear.” The increased volume of traffic puts pressure on governments that is increasingly difficult to ignore.
Foodficiency Posted at BrianRashid.com
…After graduation from college, I moved to San Francisco for a year of service in Americorps. I was teaching 8th grade in the Mission District. I genuinely loved the work, the school, the students, and the community. Each day brought new lessons, but one particular night changed my life.
It was around 7:30 pm and I was leaving the school (much later than anyone usually left) when I saw one of my favorite students. We will call her Mary, and she was just outside of the school (again, she would not have expected anyone to still be at school). However, Mary was not studying nor hanging out, but rather was elbow-deep in the trash can furiously searching for something. I gently said hello, and asked her what she was doing? Alarmed, she responded “um, nothing,” trying to compose herself quickly. I asked her again, and she confessed. “We have no food in the house, and no money to buy more, so my mom sent me out to find dinner.”
…When thinking about this question I find I’m focusing on division and how I might perceive how a division of any kind might be experienced. For starters, technology is designed. It gets designed. This design process can be the make or break point when technology is going to become divisive or not. There is a reason your microwave clock blinks 12:00 or car radio clock is off. It’s too hard to adjust it. That’s not user error that’s technology design error. The folks involved didn’t consider how people might use or whether they might even desire such a time display….
…Naysayers who are skeptical about the ability of marginalized groups (e.g. the homeless, youth, the elderly, and poor or isolated populations in developing economies) often point to a lack of willingness, access, or resources for these groups to participate in open dialogue about the issues that contribute to their isolation or lack of opportunity for engagement. Relatively simple cellular technologies, including SMS text messaging and expanding access to wireless networks are rapidly improving the capacity of marginalized groups to benefit from trends towards increased transparency. One simple example is the expanded use of cell phone technology to help homeless populations streamline the daily process of finding a bed in a shelter for the night…
…Since we’ve started an accelerator to support the next generation of innovative companies working to make our cities a better place (think: Zipcar and Alta Bicycle Share), we’re often asked about the digital divide and the problem of disenfranchisement.
To start, we should point out that not all innovative companies in the urban space are exclusively targeting higher income individuals. There are urban companies whose core missions explicitly tackle challenges facing lower income communities. Just look at Revolution Foods, which employs an inventive approach to providing healthy food to over 600 schools around the country. The majority of students served by RevFoods are in the inner city, and many take part in free and reduced lunch programs. Furthermore, RevFoods establishes culinary centers in major cities of its operation, providing job opportunities and training to local residents.
However, companies like Revolution Foods who are focused on bringing innovation to underserved urban communities are the exception, not the rule…
…Roadify is a software company that aggregates transit data and twitter feeds, provides a platform to organize it and then displays the information on large urban digital displays. Their service is now located in the new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. After the game, fans can look up at the massive screens to see exactly when the next trains are arriving.
The potential for Roadify to bridge the digital divide is a tantalizing prospect. For Lyft, the digital smart phone divide is one of the major social and economic access issues. Roadify is a technology platform that could solve just that problem. We are already surrounded by digital signage on the freeway, at the store, and even in our homes. If Roadify digital information were displayed on bus stops, on the screens at the supermarket, and the data were even broadcast on our local TV station, those without smart phones would not be left behind. It would make transit data pervasive. Moreover, it might take away the financial burden from transit agencies, which are already cash strapped and unable to upgrade their bus stops with state-of-the-art signage. Small neighborhood stores could generate some ad revenue by displaying the data.