Smart Cities: 10 Opinions About What Matters

For the last six months I’ve written more than 30 Smart Cities posts in search of the secrets of educational innovation and improvement.  I’ve also been learning from other authors. Following is a compilation of other folks thinking about cities and innovation–half from education and half from business and technology.

1. The Center for Reinventing Public Education is the leading advocate for urban portfolio strategy which includes 7 components:

  1. Good Options and Choices for All Families,

  2. School Autonomy,

  3. Pupil-Based Funding for All Schools,

  4. Talent-Seeking Strategy,

  5. Sources of Support for Schools,

  6. Performance-Based Accountability for Schools, and

  7. Extensive Public Engagement.

2. CEE-Trust is a network of more than 30 local funders and agitators advancing a portfolio strategy.  With Public Impact, they recently released two reports on Scaling a Successful Pilot to Expand Blended Learning Options Citywide and Interventions and Catalysts in Markets for Education Technology: Roles of City-Based Funders.

3. The Department of Education has advocated for Education Innovation Clusters that “articulate the connection between three key partners; educators, researchers, and entrepreneurs – each adding their unique strengths to the network.”

4. Andy Smarick’s new book The Urban School System of the Future notes that districts were designed to operate similar attendance boundary schools and not “built to constantly develop different types of schools populated through parental choice. They weren’t designed to continuously identify, replicate, and expand their best schools. They weren’t designed to regularly close and replace failing schools. They weren’t designed to authorize others to run autonomous schools. These tasks are not in the DNA of the traditional school district.”

5. In Startup Communities Brad Feld documents the buzz, activities, and dynamics of entrepreneurial communities. Feld thinks entrepreneurs must lead the startup community and leaders must make a long-term commitment to an inclusive and engaging community. Brad thinks start communities can leverage universities like his hometown of Boulder Colorado does. (See last week’s Getting Smart feature.)

6. The Thriving Cities Project from University of Virginia, measures urban “endowments” which are comprised of the:

  • True: education and knowledge production;

  • Good: moral and ethical formation;

  • Beautiful: art and aesthetics;

  • Prosperous: economic life;

  • Well-ordered and Just: political and legal systems; and

  • Sustainable: public health and environmental.

7. In The Rainforest Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt explore innovation ecosystems. They suggest that the secret to building the Next Silicon Valley is building human networks that generate extraordinary creativity and output.

8. Cities: Where Good Jobs Are Created, is an excerpt from Jim Clifton’s book The Coming Jobs War. Clifton argues that what cities need for job creation “entrepreneurs, enterprise energy, and the leadership to put it all together” is all located in cities, “the highest probability source of job creation.”  He suggests that the culture of Bay Area “that responds to innovation and creates business models like no other place on Earth.”  Clifton urges other cities to “align efforts citywide” to “wage a war for jobs.”

9. Ten years ago Richard Florida outlined the Rise of the Creative Class, but recently he acknowledged that creative coastal cities were not providing much trickle down benefit to middle class workers.

10. Joel Kotkin has criticized Richard Florida’s Creative Class theory and outlined the growth formula of low tax energy rich Red State Growth Corridors.

Comparing the work of these leading authorities, I think we can derive four important elements:

  • innovation takes an ecosystem;

  • talent development feeds the ecosystem;

  • the ecosystem leverages local assets; and

  • policies impact the ecosystem–good and bad.

From a K-12 standpoint, urban districts need partners–investors, talent developers, new school developers, and policy advocate–to create an innovation ecosystem.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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