State of the City from Living Cities

Living Cities has published a new report on the state of cities in the USA, it’s a worthwhile read if you’re already reading my blog. It’s not that long, really. It lays out a number of key struggles our cities are facing and suggests some innovative practices that show promise, but mostly paints a very daunting picture of our country’s future.  I just bought a home, for the first time, and that process of viewing, inspection and bidding highlighted the poor condition of so much of our housing stock built in the 1950-1954 boom.  We have an aging population and high unemployment and it seems to me that much of the housing stock in the east bay has some serious deferred maintenance. We don’t seem to be able to maintain our own homes to a high standard, just like we don’t seem to be able to maintain our cities, infrastructure and schools. 

the community development sector has failed to keep up with these enormous changes. Our systems for supporting national prosperity and individual economic opportunity were built for different times on outdated assumptions. Place-based efforts, while beneficial to some, are not sufficient to reaching the scale necessary to fix these broken systems. We cannot simply manage decline in cities – we must be on the cutting edge of these economic and social shifts and change how cities operate.

This paragraph stood out to me- the idea that we are managing decline in our cities rather than rebuilding our infrastructure for the future- take Oakland’s 84 year road paving cycle for example.

Isolated approaches to fixing our most intractable problems have not worked. There needs to be new, local, ‘civic infrastructure’ built around one table where cross-sector decision-makers come together to set ambitious goals, use data to transform systems and achieve better outcomes.

Having worked in a cross sector organization that does excellent work in forming and sustaining collaborations I see the focus on breaking down decision making silos as a key way to improve our government functioning and our community development efforts.  We’ve seen so many isolated efforts fail because the department only considered their own jurisdiction and mandate and failed to connect their work to those of connected agencies.  You don’t fix urban schools without improving safety and you don’t fund that without good businesses and housing as a base for your community- it all fits together and all must be tackled  together. Get better teachers and schools but don’t fix the juvenile justice system? Nice try. We need more cross sector and inter-agency collaboration and serious planning efforts that accept risks and support innovations that are not comfortable but work to improve our common good.

It is imperative that we build a new civic infrastructure that supports collaboration; that we develop a high performing public sector that provides leadership and resources more strategically

This is something I’m very focused on and feel constant frustration at the pace of this change- we need leaders in our cities who get these new issues, who understand the scale of change needed and who embrace better practice.  We need them to share lessons and failures while being more open to implementing good practices from other cities without feeling the need to reinvent the wheel on every issue in every city. We cannot afford to do things the old way- making unique programs and policies and systems that do the same thing in every city- we need to think more like the open source software community and copy and redeploy as much as we can- we can all build on what others have done and then give back into the pool of ideas, policies and tools to allow others to build on our work. Collaboratively as a country, working together to solve our big problems at a scale that we can fund.

View the full report on Living Cities website here.

Can we multitask Opening Government?

I love this idea from the Opening Government project:

our intent is not to make smarter, decentralized, or collaborative government—it’s to do all 3 at the same time.

This is exactly what we’re trying to do at OpenOakland! It’s not sufficient to try to achieve just one of these goals- they are all related and critical. It’s hard to re-imagine government with just one of these areas reformed.

If this sounds like something important or something you have any interest in then join us to help redefine citizenship and government at CityCamp on Dec 1st:

If this event really gets you excited and you want to do more for your community then we’d love for you to join up with OpenOakland- we meet weekly in City Hall on Tuesdays. Find out more here:

Finally a CityCamp in Oakland!

Amid the craziness of an election season, negative press all around, people getting political on Facebook, our nation becoming more and more polarized and a never ending stream of government corruption and scandals it’s hard to expect that regular people have any trust or interest in government anymore.  But that can and must change.  And guess what? You can play a part in this important change! Even in Oakland, a city with quite a mixed history…

CityCamp is in town! We at OpenOakland are proud to announce the first ever CityCamp in Oakland, visit to register now, it’s free and it will be inside City Hall on December 1.  This is an important event for those of us excite about this thing we call Open Government and for those of us who love this city!


Why should you care, and attend?  We all rely on our local governments for so much, from delivering clean water, removing garbage, maintaining streets, parks and libraries and for hosting cultural events.  Like it or not you and I rely on government for a lot, and that’s cool.  In the USA we are blessed with a democracyfor the people and of the people. This system only works when we are all civically involved.  Contrary to popular press there is no “them” and “us”, we are our government, and our government consists of a whole bunch or “us”, that is people who live in our communities.  But there is a twist in this system. If we simply treat our cities like service vending machines- taxes in, service out, then we cannot expect innovation, efficiency and openness.  That is a closed concept, a limited function system that is dumb and doesn’t adapt.

But government can and should be much more. Many of us dig the idea of governmentas a platform: a platform which supports safe communities, job growth, solid schools, business development and innovation.  As a platform we can enable so much in our communities.  To most of you this is likely a new concept, but trust me this matters; our governments have a ton of changing to do, and they will not and can not do it without all of us being involved and engaged.

So come to CityCamp Oakland – it’s a whole day of amazing conversations, sharing, learning and ideation with people from inside city hall, local technologists, community members, journalists, advocates, teachers and other awesome people who care about their city and what it can really be.  CityCamps are unconferences- we build our agenda on the day. It’s fun. Seriously. You can lead a session on anything you want, it can be a new idea for a government/community partnership, a data issue, a possible technology solution.

CityCamps are a gateway drug to modern civic engagement.  We have two big choices in a Democracy- to sit back and be consumers (read- let others do the leading and have no say in how our country is run) or we can be citizens- actively involved in our communities. 

We just heard that the City Administrator is taking a lead from Mayor Ed Lee in SF and offering staff a day’s leave if they attend too, which is brilliant leadership- it’s often hard to encourage overworked, isolated city staff to waste a weekend day like this. So thank you Deanna for supporting your team and helping us to build a stronger community through real conversations and collaboration!

See you there December 1st!  This is a rare positive event in this political climate, come help us write the future of active, engaged democracy!!