How Cities Can Transform into Hubs of Innovation

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors fall meeting, President and Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson said cities must embrace technology in order to move forward.

by / September 29, 2014
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and the U.S. Conference of Mayors wrapped a two-day meeting with a press conference on technology and innovation at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Photo by Brian Heaton. Brian Heaton/Government Technology

SACRAMENTO -- If cities want to transform themselves into hubs of innovation, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson believes they must embrace technology to help propel local economies.

Johnson's remarks capped a two-day gathering featuring dozens of mayors at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, who were in town for the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) Fall Leadership Meeting. Following a Monday press conference, Johnson told Government Technology that he was enamored by a presentation given on Sunday by Lyft and Uber, the two major transportation network companies (TNCs) that enable citizens to hail a ride using their smartphones.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Lyft CEO Logan Green described what their companies offer and painted a picture of how people can get around in cities like never before by just using their mobile devices. Johnson said that Kalanick and Green explained things cities can do to make themselves more attractive to investment by their companies and other startups, including examining local ordinances to make entry into urban markets easier.

The Sacramento mayor said he was also impressed with Uber and Lyft's description on how ride-sharing companies can help urban areas cut down on carbon emissions and drunk-driving.

“The biggest takeaway for mayors is that we want to create platforms where innovative companies like Uber and Lyft can come into our cities and can grow, and that's good for our citizens,” Johnson said.

Kalanick told the mayors on Sunday that Uber had delayed rolling out features to its service waiting for governments to address regulatory issues, only to watch competitors move forward with similar upgrades, the Sacramento Business Journal reported. But Uber's patient approach appears to be over.

“If other companies are able to operate and there’s no enforcement of the regulations or laws, than we’re going to take that as tacit approval,” Kalanick said.

Other topics discussed among the elected officials over the weekend include the recent violence in Ferguson, Mo., and ways cities can work with large pension funds such as the California Public Employees' Retirement System to invest in local infrastructure projects.

Climate change was also on the agenda. California Gov. Jerry Brown met with the mayors about Proposition 1, the state water bond that will appear on the November ballot. Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz expressed optimism that storm water runoff might be recycled and turned into drinking water more readily in the future.

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.