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Addressing Equity in Smart Cities Development: #NextGen #PublicAdmin

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Carla Mays and David Capelli
August 4, 2017

The issues of race and class are deep in the fields of green/sustainability/environmentalism, architecture/urbanism/planning/building, and technology which are combined into what is called Smart Cities Development. The inequity legacy of Jim Crow is ever present in these industries which have converged into “Green Crow.”  The next generation of public administration must address Green Crow in a cross-sector approach to truly design equitably and mitigate negative externalities of this convergence of industries.

Green-Globe-psd44812Public administrators must call to question the systemic Green Crow which exists in these industries that rely heavily on government funding, cooperation, land use and allocation and policy changes. Diversity and inclusion in green and tech has been about human resources and not focused on people as innovators, entrepreneurs and professionals in their city. This needs to change for scalability, mass adoption and systematic change in public administration’s role in managing resiliency and sustainability as cities become Smart Cities.

The fact that professional growth, new companies and organization in diversity and inclusion are low and stagnant is a problem. Progressives blame Trump, however the backlash stems from this Green Crow.

As public administrators, we have to take extra care to call attention to this fact. The resistance our team faces is decades and centuries of racism and class challenges in these fields and now they are combined. This has created institutional race and class problems that are deep rooted at organizations like 100 Resilient Cities and other philanthropic and government institutions. Organizations like Sierra Club and Women League of Voters are addressing it directly by collaborating and holistically addressing race and class. Others are giving lip service or doing “outreach” or “educating folks” which just makes the problem worse. This hurts because this does nothing to change the dynamics of growing professionals and companies. New public administration frameworks must be established to address civil rights issues in governing green, technology and urbanism in the Smart Cities era.

In the United States, economic inclusion is always missing from the design, financing and implementation of projects and policies; whereas social justice is often talked about. In conducting comparative analysis of international models of governance versus American models, the current American progressive Green Crow convenes expert, mostly international folks that are funded by their governments to discuss sustainable development and Smart Cities in predominantly American urban communities of color and/or low income communities.

Yet, there are little to no Americans, especially Americans from diverse racial or socioeconomic backgrounds, represented at the decision making table on these poignant issues, so our voices are not in these rooms. Public administrators around the country have often said there is no diverse talent qualified for this work, because foundations and governments pick very grassroots or community members that are not professionals like us. The power and educational dynamic is off, thus justifying their Green Crow due to not having qualified professionals to hire, collaborate or partner with.

Economic and professional exclusion is a problem we face within corporate sustainability and in philanthropy when designing new public administration frameworks. The public sector currently heavily relies on corporate sustainability and philanthropic dollars to fund Smart Cities development. Americans, especially Americans from under-represented professional backgrounds, are constantly asked to step up with no financial support for continuing education, travel, invited-only or very costly events to convene, connect and problem solve on “grand challenges.” Americans working on American challenges have little to no research dollars or money to participate. This creates inequity and keeps the best solutions from really coming from the ground up; this is a governance and public administration issue.

Professionals of color with degrees and firms are double locked out due to this current socio-political structure that dictates the governance frameworks for emerging markets and neighborhoods. Public administration must mean something and have scalable, implementable frameworks for Smart Cities that discontinue the normalcy of millennials and people of color to freely have our brains picked, be overqualified volunteers and continue to have unpaid fellowships and positions. It is important to address civil rights issues such as EEOC candidate selection versus professional hire for advising, corporate board member or paid fellow. Americans, and especially Americans of color in real professional and entrepreneur opportunities in smart and sustainable development must be included in the planning, design, and implementation of Smart and Sustainable City policies, projects and capital outlays.

This is why we developed the #SmartCohort. Our #SmartCohort Program is the #1 comprehensive program for Smart & Sustainable Cities Development. It uses the frameworks of EcoDistricts and LEED for Neighborhood Development as the base of the program. Our #SmartCohort addresses normally over-looked issues of finance and governance. This affects technology rollouts, on boarding of public sector and residents, cybersecurity and privacy; and smart infrastructure investments. It is a cross sector training that uses agile, human centered design, rapid prototyping to tailor to each city’s needs into developing into a “Smart City.” The program especially focuses on digital and social equity, digital transformation, innovation economy, local living economy and mitigation of negative externalities of increased automation and urbanism.

Public administration must lead in establishing equitable frameworks for Smart Cities development, design and implementation to deal with deeply entrenched civil rights issues that have culminated into Green Crow. This is our new 21st “public good” imperative that must be seeing through the blind spots of social impact and big data as our cities are dealing with loads of negative externalities of our innovation economy like gentrification, homelessness and digital divisions that require real management — not cute apps, social impact challenges and hackathons.


Authors: Carla Mays, MPA & EcoDistricts AP, David Capelli, EcoDistricts

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

One Response to Addressing Equity in Smart Cities Development: #NextGen #PublicAdmin

  1. Brynne VanHettinga Reply

    August 5, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Thank you for pointing out something those of us from the wrong side of the social-economic tracks have observed for decades.

    Barriers to inclusion of lower socio-economic populations in urban planning involve more than the biases of those in positions of power. It is difficult to be involved in community-building when you are constantly on the move in search of the next paying gig, or as a consequence of “redevelopment” (i.e., gentrification). For many, the struggle for everyday survival (or even the simple necessity of finding a job) precludes the ability to have a sense of place.

    Some international NGOs have developed something similar to #SmartCohort called the sustainable livelihoods framework. This is a model that holistically takes into account political structures, processes and local culture to design urban ecosystems that work for all residents.
    While the sustainable livelihoods framework is not a one-size-fits-all solution, it prioritizes the values of social sustainability, inclusion, and equity. More about the sustainable livelihoods framework can be found at http://www.eldis.org/vfile/upload/1/document/0901/section2.pdf

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