The CityXChange Roadmap

The 21st century belongs to cities. For the first time in human history, more than half of humans live in cities: by 2050, 70% of people will be urbanites. People who live in cities have higher incomes, better health outcomes, and more social opportunities.

In the face of unprecedented growth, cities today face an array of challenges. Long-term stresses like changing economic models and aging infrastructure, as well as short-term shocks like intensifying natural disasters and terrorism, pose ongoing risks for cities. Despite the urgency, many cities lack the resources they need to serve their exploding populations. In many cities around the world, infrastructure and social fabrics are at their breaking points.

The tech industry, for its part, has not stepped in to fill this gap. Startups have prioritized taking their technologies directly to consumers, hoping to avoid what they consider unnecessary and time-consuming bureaucracy. When startups do bump up against government, they often choose to disregard existing legal, regulatory and market structures, considering them outdated or unfair. When startups do address resilience issues, they often ignore the complexity of urban problems. The prevalent model for startups — build towards a minimum viable product that solves a particular problem, even if that problem is civic–often ignores the interrelated nature of city-challenges, let alone the complex web of stakeholders with needs and interests different from traditional customers.

The disconnect between cities and tech has created a paradox: as people have begun to expect more from their gadgets, they expect less from their governments. Technology has impacted almost every aspect of modern life, in almost every city on earth. The disconnect is palpable: high speed cellular networks are omnipresent, even in countries that have difficulty providing clean water to their citizens. Cars may soon drive themselves, while many public transportation systems are slower than they were fifty years ago.

Yet whether or not cities understand technology, technology is rapidly reshaping the urban environment. In the next decade, smartphones, big data, AI, autonomous vehicles, and other technologies have the potential to remake citizens’ relationships with the cities in which they live, yet cities lack vision for how technology could help them rethink their thorniest problems. To best serve their citizens, cities today must learn how to incorporate technological change into their own strategies for meeting societal goals.

Many startups think that regulations are either outdated and did not contemplate the technologies they’re trying to introduce, or the regulations are heavily influenced by competitors and are intended to stifle competition and new players in the market. They also have had negative experiences navigating often unwieldy government bureaucracy. — VC Participant

It is not impossible for governments and the technology industry to find a way to work together: the U.S. Federal government, for example, played a foundational role in the creation of Silicon Valley. The time has come, therefore, for cities and the global tech industry to pursue a more collaborative relationship. With that goal in mind, The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) launched CityXChange, a unique global program dedicated to helping cities better partner with the tech community to improve urban resilience. RF and 100RC envision CityXChange as developing a “third way” for civic innovation, creating pathways for innovators and cities to partner and achieve mutual objectives.

We present the CityXChange Roadmap as an initial report on the barriers that partnerships between cities and startups face, as identified at the Summit. We will also suggest an initial Playbook of strategies and tactics that cities can use to overcome those barriers. We hope the lessons and insights found here will be relevant and valuable for cities and innovators interested in building productive partnerships across sectors and help to catalyze the next generation of resilience technologies.

Next: Why should cities and the tech industry partner?