This past week it was hard to tell if the folks braving the heat in downtown Austin were Pokemon Go players or NewCo Austin attendees. While searching for our next session, I started talking with another NewCo attendee, a young woman who recently moved to Austin. She graduated from an elite university, had gotten her first real job at a start up back East, and was lured to Austin because she heard from a friend there was a really good “scene” in Austin. Not a music scene or social scene, but a start-up scene.
The pumping Sonos system that hits you entering the lobby of the Capital Factory and the frenetic swirl of earnest young people coming and going in Austin’s signature incubator makes it obvious that something cool is going on. But aside from the energy and the talent, NewCo Austin — produced by Capital Factory — showed that there are some true world-changing companies being built.
Flush with a $14M series A, the rock star team at Data.World is building the GitHub for linked, open data sets. Hungry Planet is leveraging innovation in LED lighting to revolutionize indoor farming. The Dell Medical School is the first tier 1 medical school to be launched in 50 years, and they are leveraging that opportunity to link to the innovation ecosystem in ways that will surely inspire the rest of the world.
There’s a very romantic American story that I love, that lots of artists who are young and starting out love, too, and it goes like this: Move to the Big City with nothing, make friends, make art, struggle, but make it. That’s the kind of story told in Patti Smith’s wonderful memoir, Just Kids.
It certainly isn’t the place I knew when I was young — we had no money, the city was bankrupt, it was filled with cockroaches, a lot of rats, it was a bit gritty, and it was cheap to live here, really cheap. You could have a bookstore job and a little apartment in the East Village. There were so many of us, so many like minds. You can’t do that now.
Today’s Top Stories — Our Cities Do What We Design Them To Do: Laws change, and that’s a good thing, but patterns last much longer. — This Nutritional Research Has Been Brought To You By Butterfingers: Guess who’s funding those candy studies? — Walmart Sends in the Drones: Yes, workers might be impacted. — Solar in Chile Is Free — But There’s a Catch: The infrastructure needs to catch up. — In Vancouver, It’s Land Over Work: The value of property exceeds the value of labor.
Our Cities Do What We Design Them To Do City planning matters. You can see that in these drone images of Cape Town in South Africa (Quartz), which show how the “architecture of apartheid” is still there. South African cities were designed to “give white people access to the central businesses districts and homes in the leafy suburbs. Black people had to live far outside of the city.” Yet that method of organization persists, despite two decades of majority rule. Changing laws is important, of course, but literally changing the facts on the ground is necessary to combat persistent inequality.
Today’s Top Stories — What Amsterdam Knows About Making a City Smart: Data data data. — Y Combinator Steps Toward Basic Income Study: It starts with a pilot in Oakland. — Social Media Leaders Reach Agreement With European Regulators: Facebook, Google, and others vow to combat hate speech. — An Open Office That Works for Introverts: Susan Cain has advice. — Consultants Are Helping Corporate America Slack: It’s like teaching your older relatives to use Snapchat. — Do You Want To Complain to Airbnb About Your Neighbors?
Data Makes Amsterdam Smart MIT Sloan Management Review looked at Amsterdam’s Smart City initiative and took away six lessons, many of which revolved around how the city uses data. GPS data from an Amsterdam-based navigation software and technology provider helps manage traffic flow in real time. Recent data also lets planners do their planning based on recent changes: for example, the city has 25% fewer cars and 100% more scooters than it did in 2011. And, of course, the review suggests that a city needs a CTO to tie it all together. The study rewards a deep dive and there’s a reference to the TV show Get Smart if you read until the end, but the TL;DR is clear: If you’re not capturing and acting on data, you are going to have one dumb city to manage.
What might you learn if you analyze 14 years of city-specific funding data?
Humans have always associated innovation with place — from Florence to Silicon Valley. However, research on the geographic distribution of venture capital, insights necessary for progressive cities to thrive, is tentative at best.
Barcelona’s Car-Free Experiment There’s no one way to turn a city away from cars. In one of the most fascinating experiments we’ve seen so far, Barcelona will use an area of the city as a prototype “superblock,” (Guardian) a neighborhood that auto traffic will be routed around. The test area will be in the Eixample district, which has a famous gridded design and officials believe is the right place to start. The city has ambitious goals: a 21% decrease in traffic intended to counter some dire statistics, like 3,500 premature deaths each year associated with air pollution. It’s a case of a city using the idiosyncracies of its own design to make positive change.
Cities are changing, but our expectations of what cities can do for us might not be changing so much. Planet Money founder Adam Davidson’s New York Times Magazine essay shares what is now a quaint story: the author’s ancestors moved a century ago to the central Massachusetts city and worked their way to the middle class and beyond. Davidson’s great-great-grandfather started as a fruit vendor and tonic salesman, selling to fellow immigrants who worked in factories. Each generation built on the previous one’s successes: the fruit vendor’s children worked as stenographers and bookkeepers; their children in turn became lawyers, accountants, and executives. Davidson acknowledges that manufacturing center “Worcester wasn’t anybody’s first choice,” but it was “an engine of betterment,” a place where reasonable dignity was reasonably possible — and a place with a way out. Despite today’s “dead industry and collapsing buildings,” Worcester still attracts those priced out from popular coastal cities. And the story ends with a beautiful line from Ahmed Yusef, an Iraqi immigrant who put down roots in Worcester and sees it as a place to build a better life. “You like Worcester,” Davidson says to him. “No,” Yusef responds. “Not like. Love. I love it. I have a future. New York is for dreams. Worcester is for working.” Working and dreaming, another generation enters the city …
What’s Next: Lobbyist Bots? Self-driving cars now have lobbyists (The Verge). Google, Ford, Lyft, Volvo, and Uber are behind the initiative. In keeping with Washington tradition, the new group has an inoffensive, inarguable name (Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets) and follows revolving door hiring practices at its top (it’ll be run by David Strickland, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
What’s a Company Without A Purpose? Apparently, the answer is “one of the largest companies in the world.” In his weekly column, NewCo’s editor in chief reviews the purpose of the five largest companies from Fortune’s 2015 500 list, and finds them severely lacking.
Borrowing From Peter to Pay Them All Finally, one of the ratings agencies is calling out a Wall Street stalwart, downgrading Exxon’s debt and questioning its core financial strategy. Too bad S&P found its backbone years after our last debt bubble burst. Let’s hope it’s not too late this time.