This week was a productive one for our group. Following our meeting with Christina Briggs two weeks ago, we prepared a presentation for the Milpitas Economic Development and Trade Commission on our learnings from the meeting, which Sophia presented. The feedback was quite positive and the trade commission continued discussing the ideas throughout the night, which we counted as a success. We also finally got a response from the Boston mayor’s office with an offer to answer questions if we email them over, but given their previous response delays it unfortunately seems unlikely that we’ll have the time to incorporate their answers into our report. This is a pity since the Boston Seaport district would have been a valuable glimpse into long term repercussions of an innovation district in the larger community, but there is a sizable literature online about it so we hope that we’ll be able to leverage those resources sufficiently to write our report. We’re currently working on writing the draft of our final report. We were concerned about division of labor for the final report because we wanted to maintain consistency of writing style throughout the report, so we’ve decided to split the work into a draft, which Yvonne and I are working on, and the writing of the report itself, which will be done by Sophia and Jessica.
Throughout this project, we’ve been consistently struggling with two major challenges, both of which are finally becoming less of a concern now. First, our project required a lot of contact with city officials, which was often difficult given their busy schedules. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we struggled a lot throughout with the vagueness of the project. In contrast to many of the other projects which had very concrete action items to execute on which were already defined at the start of the project, ours felt very open ended. I know I personally did not feel that I was qualified to advise a city council whose jobs were effective economic development on how to do so. We were often unsure of what the next step would be and how best to execute, and this led to some wasted time where we were just trying to figure out how to approach the problem. Alex’s support was invaluable in this regard; if he had not been there guiding us to the right people and giving suggestions on concrete action items this project would have seemed intractable. This project has taught me the difficulty of organizing these kinds of broad projects encompassing so many interests, and the crucial importance of having an experienced leader who knows how to create a plan for less experienced but capable team members to execute on. It taught me that I still have a lot to learn, especially in becoming the former.
This week’s discussion in class has been a relevant one on the topic of the innovation district. It’s quite likely, given the emphasis of innovation districts on younger millennials, that an innovation district would incorporate many of the smart city features we discussed in class. Towards this end, we recognize both the potential benefits and the polarizing downsides that a smart city could produce. In particular, we think it’s critically important to recognize that the benefits that a networked and intelligently sensing city confer are often unequal, and we believe that it’s extremely important to consider how to ameliorate these effects. Some of this, we think, could be answered by ensuring that these changes are part of the public infrastructure rather than being fully supported by private interests, but we also recognize the difficulties in funding such an endeavor. One possible solution is something similar to the successful work in Fremont where in discussions with developers, the government was able to convince developers of the need to public amenities to enhance property values and attract residents, which persuaded the developers to provide the funding for many of these amenities themselves.