A Perfect Storm for Urban Innovation

Right now, there’s a perfect storm forming in the world of social change. Three currents are coming together: the international migration to urban centers, the emergence of cities as global policy drivers, and the digital transformation of brick-and-mortar services.

Put simply, cities are where people are moving, where things are happening and where technology is going to change things — for better or for worse. Nearly 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, and this century that number will grow. At the same time, cities are increasingly the loci of influence for policy-making: reactionary national leaders are being be rebuffed by forward-thinking mayors, and cities are taking the lead on international issues ranging from violence and crime to energy and education. All the while, mobile, networked tools are usurping traditional services — AirBnBs are replacing hotels, Ubers taxicabs, and even drones delivery trucks. Together, these currents could represent a chaotic upheaval of the status quo, leading to inequality, racial tensions, or civic disengagement.

But I find hope in those cities willing to embrace this moment as an opportunity. Strong and smart cities can now do more than ever. Those very technologies changing industries are being put to work changing cities: already some are using Ubers as ambulances, others drones to fight fires. Indeed, some cities are leveraging simple solutions, like texting, to boost enrollment in social services, like food stamps, or to improve community police relations for victims.

The barometer for leadership in this century will be how we respond to opportunity. Question is, what kind of city will yours be?


EthosLabs is a government innovation consultancy designed to help cities and startups work together to embrace this opportunity. If your city or company is interested in working together, get in touch: hello@ethoslabs.us