Lee: Good morning. Hello. I’m Jennifer Lee, director of events at The Washington Post. Thank you for joining us today. We’re delighted to continue our transformers series with a look at how technology, government, and business are shaping the future of America’s cities. Before we begin, I’d like to thank our presenting sponsor, Qualcomm Technologies, as well as our supporting sponsor, The University of Virginia Darden School of Business. With that, please join me in welcoming Brian Fung, Washington Post technology reporter, to lead our first panel.
Transformers Cities: Business leaders, experts on the future of mobility:
Fung: Good morning everyone. My name is Brian Fung. I’m a technology reporter here at The Post. And joining me today, we’ve got three fantastic panelists. Beside me here is Raj Kapoor, chief strategy officer at Lyft. We also have Jessica Robinson, who’s the director of City Solutions at Ford Smart Mobility. And finally, Jeffrey Tumlin, who’s the principal and director of strategy at Nelson\Nygaard, a transportation consultancy.
So, you know, this panel is all about the future of transportation in cities, something that I am very passionate about as someone who bikes to work every day, and is really interested in the future of self-driving cars, and how that’s going to change cities. Jeffrey, let me just start with you. Waymo said week that it would begin taking the test drivers out of its self-driving cars in Phoenix. What do you expect we’ll see from that transition? What kind of challenges do you think Waymo will face as it tries to put this into practice? And what are we going to learn from this process about self-driving cars?
Tumlin: Well, in the short run, I’m not sure we’re going to see a lot of change or difference. In the longer run though, the changes are going to be profound, as well as the challenges. I mean, one of the really interesting challenges is how do autonomous vehicles deal with urban stop-sign-controlled intersections, where there are lots of pedestrians.
So when you’re at a stop sign, and everyone arrives at the same time, there’s a certain kind of social ability that kicks in. Like, “No, no. You go.” “No, you go.” With autonomous vehicles, you end with either the courtesy standoff, where nobody knows who gets to go next, or, probably more likely, pedestrians simply take over. Because as soon as the protocols say that you have to stop the car for the kid bouncing the ball into the street, that’ll take pedestrians in cities about five minutes to realize they can just cross whenever and wherever they want.
Fung: Sounds great for walkability. [LAUGHTER]
Tumlin: Well, until we start criminalizing pedestrian behavior further, like we did in the 1930s when we invented the term “jaywalking,” which was a term that AAA promoted, and then went to state legislatures to criminalize.
Fung: So Jessica, how are self-driving cars handling this issue of manners and politeness on public roads?
Robinson: Yeah. So it’s really important to think about the human-vehicle interaction. And Jeff raised a couple good points. But I think it goes to a deeper question of, what do we really want autonomous vehicles to do for us, in our cities. And I think there’s a real potential to improve access, and the way people can get around and experience our cities. But certainly, safety is a part of what’s going to be important for the rollout of, quite frankly, any technology.
So it’s something our engineers are looking at pretty deeply. We’re running a number of experiments now to see how people and vehicles might interact together, whether it’s lights or other things. There’s been some funny videos on the internet about that as well. A guy dressed like a driver’s seat, driving along, and you can kind of see people do a doubletake, and say, “What’s going on in there?”
What’s really important is people becoming comfortable with this technology. We’ve done some things before where we put the liner of the vehicles up and people can actually stand in front of it and do a selfie. And it’s really funny because people have never seen themselves through the eyes of a self-driving car before. And so we’re all learning how to work through these things together, in real time.
Fung: So Raj, your company, Lyft, is partnering with Ford and a number of other companies, Waymo also, on self-driving cars. Tell us some of what you’ve learned from that partnership so far.
Kapoor: Sure. So first of all, from a consumer perspective, I think it was correctly pointed out that there’s a lot of questions that consumers have, and they have a lot of questions around trust. So we’ve done some experiments with consumers. And one of the first things they want to do, when they get into a car, is they’re asking themselves the question, “What is this car seeing?” And then the second question is, “Is this car behaving the way I would behave?”
So what we’ve done is actually created a console, which we’ve launched with a few of our partners, that takes in all the object-level data that the car is seeing, because a lot of what self-driving is is that we’re teaching a car perception, and to understand the environment around it. So we’re taking in objects. It could be other cars. Could be people. Bringing those in, putting it and showing it actually on a little Android tablet, and showing the car there, what it’s seeing, and how it’s maneuvering. And that brings down, I think, the fear level, and it brings the trust in. They do that a couple time, then they’ll swipe over and start looking at music, and controls, and things like that.
One comment I want to make, though, is that this is going to be—you know, question around Waymo and others is that this is going to be a very gradual change because the reality of the situation, in the field today, is that most autonomous vehicles are slowly learning the world around them. Think about the number of scenarios that a potential car has to encounter. It’s the kid throwing the ball. I think one scenario that Waymo has looked at is grandma walking across the street with a stop sign. And what do you do about that?
So there’s all sorts of things that we haven’t even thought about. And so the comfort level with the vehicle, to be able to deal with what could be a potential infinite number of scenarios is going to take a while. So what we view it as—and this is where we think ride sharing playing a role—is because the consumer is used to picking up their phone, calling a ride, the ride comes over. What we’re able to do is to dispatch a ride, in real time, look at is this AV safe? Is this AV capable? And then and only then, dispatch an AV ride. But we think for the next decade or more, it’s going to be a combination of human drivers and AV drivers, even in ride sharing. And that will slowly get people comfortable as well; that we’re making those decisions.
Fung: Let me just pause here and remind everyone that you can ask questions also of the panelists here by using the hashtag #Transformers. We’re going to be taking questions from the audience, over Twitter, and hopefully you guys will be able to chime in with some great questions also. Raj, let me just follow up on what you were just saying. With your partnership with these companies, you’ve placed a heavy emphasis on data sharing, and pushing the industry forward as a whole. Can you tell us a little bit about what that looks like on the day-to-day? How much can Ford see of the data that Waymo’s collecting and vice versa, for example?
Kapoor: So we’re very clear though that we’re not sharing Ford’s data with Waymo, or Waymo’s data with Ford in doing that. What we’re able to do is take the network data that we have and help these systems to be able to understand and recognize scenarios that are out there.
You know, one of the issues that we’re also trying to solve is, for example, there are certain elements that all of the partners need, like an HD map. So for those that aren’t familiar with how an autonomous vehicle works, the vehicle, the first thing it needs to do is to figure out where am I in the world. And in order to do that, you can’t use the Google Maps that we all use in our phone, because the accuracy is too low. It needs to know down to the centimeter level of where it is. It’s called “localization.” And the best way to do that, right now, is to use a high-definition map. The problem is, high-definition maps don’t exist today. And the industry is trying to fill that void. But to create a high-definition map, and the second piece is to keep it refreshed at a rate that is constant with the world that’s changing around it is a very big task.
So since Lyft now has almost 800,000 drivers, just in the United States, that are going out on a daily basis, to do rides, our ability to collect that data using those drivers is something that we’re hoping that we can help the industry with, and provide them with some safe and reliable mapping capabilities. So that’s one example.
Fung: So Jeff, maybe you can tell us, you know, these companies are collecting all this data about the environment, and it’s all going to be fed into some really advanced navigational systems and perception systems. But what kinds of businesses could be built on top of this data layer?
Tumlin: Well, it depends upon who can get access to the business, or to the data. And it also depends upon what’s the role of government in being able to see and manage that data. So one of the great data concerns that I have is, as technology changes and proliferates, which is really good, who is managing the transportation system as a whole? What is the role of government in collecting data that is gathered in the public right of way? So cities own the operating environment for all of these transportation providers. And it’s providing that operating environment free for private benefit.
Can cities get the right amount of data in order to manage the system as a whole, without violating either the business interests of the private operators, or the privacy of the individuals who are moving? This is one of the great challenges, and I think we need to answer that question first before we can figure out what’s happening with the data among other private users.
Fung: Jessica, have you guys begun having these conversations with cities? And if so, what does that look like?
Robinson: We have. This is something that comes up in pretty much every conversation we have. There’s a lot of things to unpack within the question of data and privacy. One of the areas that I think is important, that we don’t always talk about, is where there are data gaps today. And there’s many, including things like how our public transit networks work, and where riders are going, where they’re accessing the system. How can transit agencies actually better optimize what they’re doing?
And for us, that’s as important as the question of are vehicles, as sensors, feeding into a broader transportation network? Because if you sit down with someone who runs a transit agency today, they will tell you all kinds of things that they don’t understand about how their routes are being run.
Fung: What’s an example?
Robinson: They don’t necessarily know—an example is, if the DOT changes the timing on a traffic light, that will impact the time between two bus stops. They may not have gotten that update, or maybe the systems don’t talk together today, so that impacts the bus. So if you’re standing there waiting, and now, the DOT changed the stop, the bus is now two minutes late every day, or worse, the bus is now two minutes early every day, and you miss your bus, and now you have to wait for the next one.
And so it’s only through that coordination that this vision of efficient systems working together is going to be really important. And it’s going to take collaboration from organizations that may not be used to working together. It’s going to take these really hard discussions between the private sector, and the public sector, and representatives from the communities to say, “What do we actually want? What are we willing to trade off? What’s non-negotiable?”
At the end of the day, Ford believes that we all own our own data, and that’s a starting point for these conversations.
Fung: Raj, we were speaking earlier about this idea of having a city-wide operating system almost for transit. Describe for the audience a little bit how that vision operates.
Kapoor: Yeah. And just to comment first around the use of data, I think that this really—transportation is one of those interesting areas in a city that has to be a public-private partnership that’s there. And it’s increasingly getting to be important that way. From a consumer’s perspective, the lines start to blur between is it ride sharing, is it a bus, is it a shared ride sharing and transit? All those things. And I think they’re going to exist in totality that are there.
One example of how we’ve done this is just here in D.C. I don’t know if any of you were hanging on Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle at 1:00 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night. No one is shaking their head yes. But it’s pretty crowded, and there’s always a backup of Lyfts, others, taxis, et cetera that are there. So we worked with the city, utilizing our data, to try to figure out where are the hotspots along Connecticut Avenue. What the city was able to do was then to take out 60 parking spots and replace them with designated drop off and pick up, which significantly reduced the congestion. And it’s also safer for people at 1:00 a.m. You don’t want them driving their car anyway around that time.
So that’s an example where we’re able to utilize data in a safe way, in a way that doesn’t harm the private ownership of that data and that information. Going back to your question around the city, what I think is exciting is that transit is not going away. Even in the world of autonomous vehicles, at full tilt, if you look at light rail, as an example. The economics of running light rail are always going to be significantly better than having a vehicle, even if it’s a shared vehicle or pooled vehicle, the way that a lot of Lyft is today.
So what it’s going to be is a combination. What the consumer is going to care about—and I went and spoke to about 45 different cities around the world, when I first started this role, to understand what their needs were. And it was clear that the consumer wanted a way to be able to figure out, “What’s the best way to get from point A to point B in the city?” And different people have different trade-offs on cost. They have different trade-offs on time, on comfort, number of changes, but they want to have that information. So to the extent that the private industry can do that, but we need, as mentioned, the public information around transit so that we can make that connection.
Today, a popular use of Lyft is around first mile, last mile to transit because a lot of people don’t live within walking distance, either at their home, or their work, or wherever. So it’s being able to connect the ride in so that they can do this on a regular basis. That’s a great example where we need to look at the data of transit, and they need to understand how ride sharing is going to work, and have designated pick up and drop off.
Fung: Do you guys think that in the future consumers are going to start thinking about transit differently? Are we going to have to redefine what we think of as transit?
Kapoor: My view is that consumers will be thinking about how do I get from point A to point B, and what is the best way to get there. And if we’re all doing our job right and working together, it should be pretty seamless as to the payment methods, the ways to get there, and the navigation.
Tumlin: And that will require that public transit agencies start thinking about their customers. [LAUGHTER]
Fung: I won’t read anything into that. [LAUGHTER]
Robinson: It also, I think raises the point of what is the role of a public transit agency. And their asking themselves these questions. And for many of our transit operators, they’ve been stuck with these 40, 50-foot buses as the only solution, as if that is the only solution. And so in the conversations we have, people are very excited about the opportunity to have different kinds of vehicles, different pricing structures. Working with a variety of solutions to actually deliver on the core promise of public transit, which is to help people move around.
I think in those honest moments, if we all reflect, very few cities actually deliver on that today. And that’s what’s really important here is figuring out collectively, how do we make mobility accessible in the cities to people, so that we can get to work, can get to school? Because the time that it takes you to get to work is actually linked to your own ability to improve your situation in life. And transit doesn’t always do that today. Many places it does, and it’s a critical first step.
Tumlin: Right. And the one place, actually, that is a standout today is Seattle, of all places. Seattle is the only city in the country right now, of any real size, where bus ridership is significantly growing. In other cities, like San Francisco and New York, bus ridership is significantly down as a result of Uber and Lyft, which means the transportation system’s ability to move people is declining in New York and San Francisco.
In Seattle, it’s growing, but only because the city stepped up its leadership to get transit to deliver a quality product. Because it’s the city that owns transit’s operating environment. The city controls the street. It controls all the traffic signals. And Seattle said, “Yeah, our current method of measuring success in our transportation system is about the movement of vehicles,” which means that a person on board a 40-passenger bus is valued at 1/40th the value of somebody driving alone in a car. And people on foot or on bike, it’s not that they don’t matter, it’s that they only matter insofar as they get in the way of the free flow of traffic. This is our primary way of measuring mobility success in every single city in the United States. It’s called “intersection level of service.”
Seattle has shifted towards looking not at vehicle movement, but at person movement so that it can give priority to the most space-efficient modes of transportation. Particularly, walking, biking, and public transit. The result of that, transit faster, more frequent, more reliable. The result of that is people are taking it in droves because we value our time.
Fung: How does that work in, say, a city like D.C. where you have a broad metropolitan area, lots of folks commuting into downtown areas, and there’s a lot of competition for space on the road. Both between drivers, but also between drivers and cyclists, drivers and pedestrians. How does that work in a city like this?
Tumlin: So all public transit agencies have a structural flaw in that they don’t control their operating environment. And many of them are unclear about why they exist. So correcting for that flaw requires a partnership between the municipalities and the public transit agency; where there’s a deal that’s struck that says, “All right, city, I control the streets and the signals. If I give you better travel time, if I can make your buses faster, I need you to invest that savings into improved frequency and improved reliability.”
If cities and transit agencies operate together, not only can they improve transit, but they can be much better partners for companies like Lyft and Ford, as they’re creating new technologies to do the things that transit’s not good at. Lyft and autonomous vehicles are great at making first- and last-mile connections; getting from the bus stop to your destination; serving places that are of lower density, that can’t really be served with larger vehicles. They’re great at operating services off hours. They’re not great at primary commute service, because they’re space-inefficient, particularly compared to buses or subways.
So if cities get into the driver seat, and figure out the right roles for each of these different transportation technologies, then we can really experience the benefit. But if we turn over the public right of way to private profit, then the public loses.
Fung: Jessica, would you agree with that?
Robinson: So I think what Jeff calls out, which is really important here, is the right option for the right trip. And certainly, I think, even if you look on the street out here, right now, there is a crush of desire to be in the cities that we love and call home. But that crush comes with cars and congestion, and delivery vehicles blocking the road because our consumer behavior has shifted and we’re ordering so much stuff online now, right?
And so I think there will broader discussions about when and how and where the right vehicle is the right choice. From a consumer side, we see a world where there’s much more fluidity across all of these choices. And that’s only enabled by public transit and, again, the private sector working together. But I think it’s important also to talk about the context here, which a city itself. And the demographers tell us that in the not too distant future, something like 70% of the world will live in cities.
And so for us at Ford, that’s why it’s so important to have these conversations with leaders at the city level, because these are the places where the decisions are going to be made that have true impact on transportation systems globally. And if we don’t have that discussion, we’ll just continue to see roads being blocked, and people not being able to move.
Fung: Raj, what do you think about future street design, and what have you seen in your travels around the world, talking to other cities? What jumps out at you as being some of the cities that are doing things right?
Kapoor: Yeah. So first, just want to level set. When we started this company, I was one of the early investors and on the board, when we were about a 15-person company. And Logan started this, Logan Green, a while ago. It was through his travels. He was actually in Zimbabwe and found that he was going on these shuttle services that were saving the number of cars because they would be stopping, and people were basically carpooling. And so he thought, “In the age of the internet, why can’t we have this inefficient use of cars connected using a network online, and have less cars that are available?”
So since day one, our mantra has been about fewer cars. We don’t even look at ourselves as a ride-sharing company. Our mission is to improve people’s lives with the best transportation. And I think in the future you will see a blue between what we do. It’s about getting you from point A to point B. Tt’s about partnering with transit to make that possible in doing that. So I think there is a significant push towards bringing those together from a data perspective.
Fung: That kind of leads into my next question which is, that in Washington we’ve been talking a lot about industry consolidation, acquisitions, vertical integration, where you have companies in one space buying up companies who are operating in adjacent or related sectors. Do you think we could see something similar happen in transportation? Obviously, the shift into autonomous vehicles is kind of a natural evolution out of traditional auto making, but it’s also a sort of adjacent market, if you will. So do you see more of that happening in the future?
Robinson: Well, I mean, we’ve used acquisitions as a way to beef up the number of mobility solutions that we have. So acquired a company called “Chariot,” which is based in San Francisco. They’re a micro-transit service. And what was really important to us about the idea of micro-transit is it fills in a gap between the benefits of cars owned, and driving yourself around, and public transit. It’s a flexible vehicle.
But more importantly, and why cities seem to really be excited about it, is it’s shared. So you have some of those geometric benefits of having multiple people together in the footprint of one car. So, yes. Acquisitions are important. We continue to be building a number of our own solutions.
The other thing that I think is important for us, in the idea of working on a portfolio of solutions, is partnerships. So whether it’s with a large organization, like Lyft, or startups that we might meet through an accelerator in Detroit that we work with, Techstars Mobility, it’s going to take being open and creative to finding different solutions in different places.
Tumlin: I think as cars switch to becoming autonomous, the market is no longer the car itself. The people who are going to be making money in the automobile space are going to be the ones who figure out what to do with the time of the occupants inside the vehicle, right? So there are two ways in which to make money off of cars in the future. One is the Alphabet, or Google model, or Waymo model, which is all about advertising, right? Google’s revenue model is ads. What’s the greatest ad media space in the history of advertising? The inside of an autonomous vehicle.
The other way of making money is through bundled services. Figure out what else can you sell to the person who no longer needs to pay attention to the road in front of her? And where you’ve got her credit card information and demographic information, and you know where she is going to or from, and it’s linked to all of her social media accounts. What can we sell her? Those are going to be the two models. We need to understand that in order for cities to be able to predict what’s going to be the impact on travel behavior. Particularly if mobility in the future is free. Why not live three hours away from where you work because you can play your PlayStation, or do whatever it is that people are going to be doing in autonomous vehicles on their commute.
Fung: So we’ve got a couple questions here from Twitter. One is a question for Jeff. If you could just sort of expand on this idea of an operating environment for cities, and how do we redefine streets and sidewalks in a world of autonomous vehicles?
Tumlin: So the operating environment is the public street. It’s the public right of way. Cities own between 25 and about 35% of the land area. It’s publicly owned. We need to make sure that this greatest asset that cities own is used for the public good. And this means managing it with the idea of not vehicle throughput, but person throughput in mind. How do we make sure that we make the most geometrically efficient use of city streets in its job to move people and goods?
This creates an opportunity as well to recognize the congestion. It’s not a technology or an infrastructure problem. It’s an economic problem. Congestion is simply what happens when the demand for mobility equals the supply. And like every other commodity, the only way to solve an economic problem is through economic tools, and particularly pricing.
The one thing we’ve socialized in America is our streets. So pricing the road is something we can finally do when private companies, through shared mobility, are operating on our streets. We can make the price invisible to the consumer and no longer about charging the individual at a 19th century toll booth, but charging private corporations, right? And then it just comes through in the bill.
It also means that we can charge for empty seats and empty cargo space, so that we reward the most space efficient trip rather than punishing the most space efficient trip, which is what we do now. So if cities can have a grown-up conversation about how we’re managing the streets in order to achieve the public good for efficiency, but also make sure that we don’t let go of walkability and bike-ability, and suffer the public health consequences of ubiquitous door-to-door mobility replacing all walk trips. Then we end up with fantastic cities, and cities that private mobility providers can thrive in.
Kapoor: A comment on that. You know, we do have a very popular share service called “Lyft Line.” What’s interesting about it is that of those returning passengers of Lyft now, it comprises 50% of their rides. And overall, it’s about 40% of all rides in the cities that it’s available. It has grown significantly, exactly because of the premise, rather than waiting for the city, we took it upon ourselves to make that service less expensive.
So the first thing they do is they say, “I can save 30% by having a shared ride.” So right away, the consumer does it. Then the second thing they think about is, “Is it creepy to sit next to someone I don’t really know?” Then they realize, in this world of phones, they put down their phone for a second and talk to a human being, and they actually enjoy the experience. [LAUGHTER] And so we have found that that service is something that’s there. I think what you’re saying, if the city can also provide further incentive, we’ve very much aligned with that.
Some interesting things that I did see around cities being redesigned, when I was visiting the world, Auckland has done an amazing job of basically setting up real time, their buses, their trains, but also roads. They’re moving to the point where if you want to go from point A to point B, the entire road journey will be dynamically told based upon where you’re going, occupancy, and a lot of other factors that are going on there. Places like Paris are doing some interesting things around the fewer-cars mantra that we talked about. Greening their streets more. Providing a lot more walkways. Providing designated pick-ups and drop offs for buses as well for ride sharing. There’s a lot of things that cities can do to improve.
Robinson: I would add, I think it’s important, we’ve talked about throughput inefficiency. An equally valid question is, maybe some of that space shouldn’t be for movement anymore, right? And you touched on that too. And that’s one of the things in our design lab we’re thinking about. You see many cities experimenting now with parklets and other pop-up uses of the street space. It is entirely possible that we can take full lanes out for vehicle use. Maybe reallocate them to bicycling or pedestrian space, but maybe they become trees, or urban playgrounds, or all kinds of other things become possible when we re-envision what we want our cities to actually be.
I think that’s the real important question here is, with the arrival of all of these new technologies, and connectivity, and coordination, cities are really saying, “Let’s pause and have these conversations, and say how does this fit in how we envision what we want our homes to be like, both today, but also into the future.”
Tumlin: Can I just point out that it was Ford that just said all that? [LAUGHTER]
Kapoor: By the way, the other piece that’s interesting you mentioned around the public roadways, is there’s this public-private area of parking spaces that are there. And in cities—you probably know the statistic better than I do—but it’s about 15% in cities. The number of parking spaces, I think, in America add up to the size of Connecticut, that are there. And again, in this world where it’s not about car ownership, it’s about getting from point A to point B, the need for those really changes. You can make parks out of parking spaces. You can use other forms that are there, which are really exciting.
Tumlin: That’s right. And we’re already, as a result of Uber and Lyft, seeing significant declines in parking demand in cities like San Francisco, which are creating the opportunity for re-converting some of that space into more productive uses; converting on-street parking into protected bikeways that are increasing bike utilization in cities. And converting off-street parking into more economically useful uses, like housing and shops.
Fung: Let’s take a question here from Facebook Live. As we start seeing more of these multimodal systems developing, what does this mean for folks who need accessible solutions? Are we going to start seeing more emphasis placed on ADA-compliant modes of transportation?
Tumlin: This is one of the critical issues of the role of government, and particularly the role of public transit. Ensuring accessibility to all people, regardless of age, or income, or ability, is a critical function of government and public transit agencies, and one of the difficult relationships that public agencies have in terms of their authority to manage private services. So there’s the potential for using technology in order to provide a much higher level of service to people who are dependent upon public transit. But only if government continues to step it up in terms of either providing public services, or incentivizing private users and private providers in order to guarantee that service.
Robinson: For us, in our Chariot service, one of the important things that we offer is wheelchair accessible vehicles to make sharing available to those who use assistive devices. But I think there is also a group of people that, quite frankly, are left out of access today with the dial-a-ride services that we have. In many cases, you have to call 24 hours to a week in advance just to get a ride to a doctor’s appointment. These are highly, highly subsidized trips that there’s a huge opportunity to improve the way people get around there.
In New York, we also ran a mobility challenge. One of the design prompts was around how to improve accessibility in the city. And we had a number of entrepreneurs come up with new ideas to improve how you might get around in New York. One of them was a gentleman who used an electrified assistive device. And he said it’s easy. You’re installing all of these kiosks where you can charge your phone, because people recognize smart phone access is really important. But he said that same battery anxiety that you have on your phone, I have with my wheelchair. So when you put the Bluetooth thing up here for the phone, just stick a plug down here so that I can plug in my chair.
And it’s only by going out and talking to people that we even learn that these are issues. And quite frankly, those can be solved pretty quickly. It’s literally just relocating a plug when you’re installing other smart infrastructure.
Fung: Raj, anything to add?
Kapoor: Yeah. So this is a mode within Lyft that we think is really important. You can say that you need wheelchair accessible service, and we recognize that, then find the nearest vehicle. The second piece that was discussed is especially around healthcare services. So we actually went backwards and did provide a phone number for people that they could call a Lyft using a phone, because it’s something they were comfortable with, especially the elderly population.
But the fastest growing segment that we have in working with kind of third-party organizations is, in fact, healthcare. And going and working with assisted living homes, and hospitals, and being able to provide rides. Anything that doesn’t require significant medical assistance is something that we think will have an important place. We also think that’s an opportunity when people say, “Oh, my god, humans are going to go away from the value chain in autonomous vehicles.” We think there will be many needs to have human care, especially around this use case; that you will have someone that’s there to potentially assist someone coming into a vehicle, getting out of a vehicle, to talk to them as well.
Fung: Well, this has been a fascinating discussion. I have a lot of questions we didn’t get to, but we’re out of time. So thank you for joining me today. Thanks to you guys for being an incredible audience. We’re going to move on to the next segment of our agenda today. Thank you.
Transformers Cities: Connecting local governments with citizens and their cities:
Wootson: Hi, everybody. I’m Cleve Wootson. I’m a reporter for The Washington Post. And today, we’re going to delve into the issue of smart cities. How do we use technology, and data, and information to make life better for basically everyone? And everyone, hopefully, includes my mom, who is a little—we were talking about ride shares earlier—a little Uber-phobic. Like she doesn’t believe that some benevolent person will show up via the internet and take us to our destination without murdering us. [LAUGHTER] And it’s really hard for me to convince her of that. And so the concept of smart cities is also kind of difficult for me to explain to her.
So I’m hoping that our panelists, by way of introduction, can do that. Instead of me using my announcer voice and introducing you, can you just kind of say who you are, what you do, and explain the best possible scenario, or the best possible situation of how smart cities can benefit everyone. Why don’t you start?
Blauer: Sure. So my name is Beth Blauer. I’m the executive director of the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University. We are a new center on campus that was launched as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities initiative. And in the last two-and-a-half years, we’ve been to 126 mid-sized cities in the United States, sort of collecting a national baseline for cities readiness for using data and evidence.
And we’ve been providing technical assistance into those cities as part of that initiative; helping mayors and city managers understand how to value data; how to connect it to outcomes; how to think about data from the perspective of the things that are most important to people that live in their cities, and also that are managing their cities.
When I think about a smart city, I think about people like your mom and my mom, but I also think about people like my fellow residents in the City of Baltimore. When I think about sort of what a good solution looks like, I think about government using data as a way to bring people together; as a way to bridge divides that have been historically exacerbated by policy and by the way that actually data has been collected and used to support decision-making. But I also think about people and the interconnectedness that we’re going to have now with the way that we’re collecting data on our wristwatches and on our telephones and then how that actually translates into accessing better services, where we’re accessing rides, how that translates into better infrastructure in our cities and the way that we’re sort of producing data as people and the intersections that that has with the ability to deliver better outcomes for people living in our cities.
Wootson: Go ahead.
Garman: Hi, I’m Kate Garman. I’m the smart city coordinator for the City of Seattle and new to Seattle. I was the policy innovation advisor for Mayor Sly James in Kansas City, Missouri. So to me, a smart city is where—since I work for cities it’s where the rubber meets the road, which we’ll do transit puns if we can.
Garman: Yes. [LAUGHTER]
Wootson: You have a green light.
Garman: Right, in Kansas City, that was basically free public Wi-Fi for 52-square blocks and it was along a new streetcar corridor, which was a big deal in Kansas City because we haven’t really had anything besides transit opinions other than buses for almost 60 years and it’s pretty spread out. So we were doing a lot of digging and Google Fiber came in and announced Kansas City as the first Google city and so free public Wi-Fi, 25 kiosks along the streetcar and Sensity Sensors, which now Verizon has bought out, to tell us the digital road conditions of the roads and pedestrian encounters and that was really the first smart city implementation and that contract was signed in June of 2015 and so we’re still learning lessons learned from that implementation in Kansas City.
In Seattle, there are several projects going underway right now, but really, it’s how we use data to change how the city operates and there are two audiences in my opinion for a smart city. One, it’s the people inside your city hall and your staff and how you change daily operations and then second are the people in your right-of-way. Your residents and your visitors, how can you better their experience and make things operate more smoothly to them, really in a way that they probably don’t even notice. Their trash is always picked up, their bus arrives on time. They know what bus to take. So we’re working on how to implement data in a really efficient manner throughout the city and it’s working with people and organizations at both of my sides, on how we can make data integrated into the culture of a city.
Meyer: I’m Erie Meyer. I work at Code for America. We’re a national non-profit that helps people make the government work better and government be better at working with people. I would say a great example of the type of work is that today in California in many counties, it can take over an hour to apply for food benefits and we have built a tool to help people apply in less than 10 minutes. When we were beta testing, part of the way that they knew it would be successful was that the frontline workers that were enrolling people who were part of the beta would continue to use it even after our visit was gone because it was just so must faster and easier to help people. My mother—because she is part of my life, so everyone knows—is a county official where I’m from and she works on a computer called a “Compaq 386”. That’s a computer a little bit older than me. [LAUGHTER] So when we talk about the transformation of cities or counties, sometimes eyes like hers can glaze over.
It can seem inaccessible. It can seem something that a wealthy city can do. Something where you have people on staff who can fix this for you so part of what’s amazing about Code for America is we have software engineers and designers in-house, but in addition to that, we have a national network of 50,000 volunteers in more than 70 cities, organized by more than 500 community organizers to work directly in their hometowns to fight for their neighbors to have the services work better. And it’s not just volunteers building an app that’s going to die; it’s software engineers who are asking, “Why are my neighbors suffering through conditions that are unacceptable?” Convening technologists, the designers, advocates and city leaders who maybe have never met an engineer before can go to a local meetup in their own town surrounded by their neighbors and work on something together. And to me, a smart city is one that begins work centered on the resident and ends work centered on the resident.
Sometimes when we talk about data, when we talk about technology, it can seem something that somebody else does. Somebody technical or somebody who is good at design does but what you’re really doing is fighting for the experience of the people in your city and ideally, the most vulnerable residents first.
Wootson: That actually segues into my next question. Not that this was planned or anything. Kate, I’m actually going to direct it to you but feel free the other two, just jump in if you want to. It’s about digital inclusiveness. How do you ensure that these smart cities that we all want to build aren’t just great places to live for people who can afford a thousand-dollar iPhone or how do you get me a thousand-dollar iPhone? [LAUGHTER] Take either question.
F: I’m going to pass the hat.
Garman: Is there any grant people in the room? That would be great. That’s a great question and it’s a critical one, actually. In the way that you execute a smart city, you have to be purposeful to include everyone. And there’s a lot of conversation on how to do that including hardware deployment but also, how you use your data. And to back up for a moment, it’s critical to connect everyone and digital connectivity, digital inclusion is a centerpiece of this whole conversation. Studies show that people aren’t buying PCs anymore to get connected. It’s through their phone and underserved communities cannot afford data plans and instead, the Wi-Fi is the way for them to get connected. So when a city supports that effort, you can have kids doing homework, you can have people finding jobs.
And so Seattle has done a study and identified 12 areas in the city in which we can vastly improve connectivity in those neighborhoods, so we can be very strategic on where to deploy that. I also think it is in which how we use our data. There was a great study that the University of Washington did, and they studied bus route efficiency and they did that with a smart card on buses and there is an estimation of origin data and final data and transfers and from that, they could figure out how people are actually using the buses rather than kind of guessing the best route. And at the very end, they themselves admitted, “We are excluding everyone who uses cash.”
And when you do that, you’re not doing it in a socially equitable way and so it’s both in where and how you deploy hardware, including Wi-Fi, including your sensors to make your city operate efficiently but also how you use your data.
Blauer: And I would tack onto that is even a step before all that is just knowing where your data is coming from. I think that especially city governments have invested generations of resources into technologies that are collecting data all the time and they have absolutely no idea how to access that data, how to use it, why it’s important to them and oftentimes, it’s those collection methodologies and the policies that have gone into that kind of collection that have created bias, that have created a divide in our communities and if you don’t attack it from a policy perspective and think about the way our programs are thinking about data, collecting data, how we understand whether they’re working or not. Then, when we try to scale up and to use it to influence decision-making or when we try to introduce new technologies like AI or AV as we heard about in the panel before us, then you’re going to exacerbate those divides instead of bringing them closer together.
And so a lot of the work that we’re doing is one of those foundational practices that have to happen in order for us to be able to actually make decisions in a way and think differently about the future and be more inclusive; bring more people together instead of continuing to push those divides.
Wootson: Some of this issue seems like it’s technological but a lot of it also seems like it’s cultural inside these organizations. And how do you kind of attack that kind of culture? We’re very forward-thinking people up here but maybe everybody in the organization isn’t. How do you do that, Erie?
Meyer: So I will tell a variety of humbling stories today and—
Wootson: Horror stories are great, by the way.
Meyer: So one thing I didn’t mention in my introduction is that I work at Code for America now. Previously, I started a digital team at the state level. I helped start a federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I was like employee number 50 trying to figure out how a law becomes a government agency. That was scary and then I helped launch the United States Digital Service, which is a technical team with engineers that we launched after the failure of Healthcare.gov and one of the things that I’ll never forget is when we started, I hired real engineers and used open-source software and built great products at the state level and we were so proud of this beautiful thing and then we said, “Okay, well, we need to use ability testing with real residents.” So we went to the local library. We did a bunch of recruitment. We sat down with our first tester. I couldn’t wait for him to “click on our beautiful buttons and use the incredibly amazing service.” And he sat down at the computer and this was the year of our Lord, 2009 and he does this, and starts touching the screen. This man has literally never used a computer before. He didn’t know what a mouse was.
This was before touchscreens were a thing and it was incredibly useful to right-size what inclusivity really looks like and tactically how you get there. So that is when I got the religion and I think throughout every single place where—there are always cultural issues when you’re working with people. I’m going to call my mom out again, who doesn’t super believe in the cloud. She’s not sure where the things are going. When you’re trying to get somebody like her to listen to you and to double down and frankly, to do extra work to get this right, you have to connect it to who she’s actually helping.
So at the VA, one of the things that we did is we were trying to fix an application for veterans’ healthcare and we went around and around and around, we had mockups, da da da da. We’re doing all this stuff. So finally, we just sat down and by we, I mean the incredible team at the digital service at the VA with a veteran who was struggling with homelessness. Again, he was about my age and he hadn’t seen a doctor in so long that he had lost teeth to the point where he had a speech impediment and he tried to apply while we watched, and he said along the lines of, “This feels like you’re setting it up so I can’t enroll.” And when you’re seeing that, it’s not a tech person swooping in and saying, “This should be a lot prettier.” And it’s not. This is somebody else’s work. Everybody who has seen this video and this is up. I can tweet it out later but everybody that has seen this video realizes that what we’re fighting for is this veteran and it’s not somebody else’s work. It’s what we have to figure out together. So to me, the tactic is to start with the users, to get in the neighborhoods, to sit down, to bring those colleagues along, and don’t make it a scary tech thing. It’s a human problem.
Garman: And if I could add to that, I think that the culture inside city hall is the hardest challenge and Bill Gates recently bought land in Arizona to do a smart city from the ground up, which I think is fantastic, especially as a Seattleite. But what it does is it takes away a lot of the challenges. You can’t just start over in a city and that culture of people and the motivation of city employees is totally different than the private sector, than any other sector because their motivation is to just perform their job because let’s say they innovate and they achieve really good success and they’re efficient and they, for instance, save money. Where does that money go? It goes back to the general fund, generally. So unless we figure out a way to maybe capture that money. Some cities have. I know the City of Denver has done some really great things.
If money is saved, they get a portion of it or it gets routed back into an innovation fund that can later support financial investments in smart city ideas or even innovation ideas. That is where we also incentivize on top of what you’re already saying, and I think that we have to be really specific to the industry that we’re in, which is government, which has different motivations in terms of time and performance.
Blauer: Can I just add something? I think having worked in a lot of different government environments, one of the things that I found so astounding is that the motivations for people to work in the public sector are actually very altruistic. People have come to the government to make the world a better place. And they come in at the frontlines. I was a probation officer. That was my first job in government and I came in because I wanted to the lives of children better that were having a really hard time and I came in with a group of colleagues at the frontline that also were there for the same reasons. But then, in a matter of years, it’s the sort of crushing weight of the bureaucracy that comes and sort of like strangles all of that out of you, right? [LAUGHTER]
And I didn’t have much to lose when I was doing it because I was a lawyer and I knew that I had like a pathway out of it but for the people that were there, like, “This is going to be my career. I’m going to stay here.” They succumbed to kind of those pressures. They call it sort of the permafrost of government and honestly, a lot of it, especially as we come out of the sort of recession starting in 2008, we sort of completely divested in the public sector. So anything that was there, whether it was training for the public sector, academic opportunities, and kind of support that we were giving to the public sector completely disappeared as what was considered to be a fringe and we underinvested in the capacity to the public sector.
So now, here we are in 2017 and we’re saying like, “Why aren’t they data thinkers? Why aren’t the people that understand why they can use technology to better optimize solutions for themselves and the reality is, is that we never sort of invested in their capacity to sort of grow as the private sector invested in their workforce?” And so one of the things that I think is so important is we need to figure out ways to reinvest and go to those people that are going to be in government that are the sort of mid-level managers. We have to make them data thinkers. We have to make them analytical thinkers and they understand how to deliver services. They understand the dynamics of the public and how they access resources and what a good city looks like and if we just invest in that sort of culture in a way for training, opportunity, the ability to take risk, I feel like we’ll be able to create so many great dividends for people who live in cities, but we really have to acknowledge the fact that these are people who want to do good for the world and we need really nourish them in a way that they can produce amazing results.
Wootson: My next question I’ll try to play off that a little bit because I assume that nobody in this room has a gigantic fire hose that shoots dollars out. Innovation, iteration, risk-taking; all of that takes money. What are the best strategies or what’s the best way for a city to determine kind of what risks to take? Is it what other people have done? Is it coming in from the private sector? Is it non-profits? How can cities determine, “How do I manage these finite resources that I have to innovate?”
Blauer: To me, I think when you’re talking about a city deciding where and how to spend risk; it’s much riskier in 2017 to not change how you work. It much riskier to use the process and the paper and the filing system that you used in the ‘50s and think that it works in 2017. One of my favorite things about this movement is an emphasis on prototypes. In governments where the very first version of a piece of software or the very first version of even a service—it doesn’t even have to be software—is the one that rolls out. The first time a real human being tries it is the final version. We’ve seen that’s a disaster. So what I’d love to see is prototypes made in the first week of a project, prototypes made out of scraps of paper left over from a meeting and testing your ideas iteratively along the way. The best way to reduce risk is to have the problems as early as possible to include a collaborative, diverse team. I bring my lawyers to my usability tests and I’m like, “Watch this.” And have people, whether it’s reading the letter they’re not going to understand in front of the lawyer or actually bringing them along to watch somebody try and fumble through what has great intentions but is mitigating risk with legalese but what you’re actually doing is breaking the service.
So for me, fail as quickly as possible. Use Lean Startup, use Agile. It is not rocket science but it’s something that cities can save millions and millions and millions of dollars by trying.
Wootson: Does that open you up to public scrutiny early on? I mean, in a negative way.
Blauer: No, I love it.
Wootson: Does it help people to shoot down your project? What’s been in your experience?
Meyer: In my experience, people get so excited when they see their work touch a human. And it actually brings a ton of heat out—so I’m talking about internal critique. Seeing somebody try something that you made and it’s a mockup or it’s an example or it’s a wireframe and they can’t quite use it, people immediately get excited and say, “Okay, what if we tweaked this?” I will find out afterward when people tweet at me that I can’t think of any example where a small-scale prototype to test out an idea had a huge risk in comparison to projects, again, like the version of Healthcare.gov that didn’t work. In comparison to cities that rollout services that just fail because we didn’t realize that people using cash couldn’t be part of the pilot or that any of these things didn’t work. You have to test these ideas with real humans and I’ve seen incredible graciousness and excitement and the feeling of being heard and seeing and gratefulness of city budget people who are saying, “Thank you for not spending $10 million on your first crack and instead, spending it on testing out your idea.”
Garman: And if you publicly engage the public in the process itself from the beginning, then they become stakeholders instead of really becoming critics of the process itself and I think that one of the things that we’re learning is that you really do have to engage the public early. There’s always been this sort of big fear particularly around performance programs, which I have a particular amount of experience in. Where that if we set bold goals as government, we’ll only be held accountable in the public, and so we shouldn’t do it and we should be timid about what we can achieve and what we can’t achieve.
And I think that the point that Erie is making around failing better is one that government has a really difficult time with because we’ve only seen these sort of sensationalized wire-type approaches to being fired on the spot for not being able to meet a particular goal. But the truth of the matter is, is that when you do give government space to innovate and to think differently and to engage the public in new and creative ways, they do produce really tremendous outcomes, like the SNAP program that CFA is really helping to implement at a level that we haven’t seen before and some of the things that we’ve been able to accomplish in terms of getting people more connected to public transportation and to access to the safety net services and the things that we know are important to keeping our cities lively. And so I think that there is a design flaw in government around the ability to take risks and until you sort of address the design flaw, then you’re going to end up having a lot of fatigue on new ideas or innovation or all of these sorts of hot buttons.
Because all they are, are fads and they’re not really entrenched in the inherent design of your government.
Meyer: Well, it’s in my title.
Garman: No, I’m just saying—
Wootson: You do government out here.
Garman: But if I could say like partnerships are key because to fail fast and to have user testing—a huge problem in cities is bandwidth for city staff. That’s why partnering with Code for America is key and with What Works Cities, and to go back to your question on financing, that is a serious issue. To encourage governments to be more risk-averse—I know several mayors who lost their reelection because of a snowstorm and their reaction to it. Seriously, the implementation of snow and the response to it and actually, I think the private sector in the panel before us because I think people get used to tracking their Uber and their Lyft have gotten people to ask, “Why can’t I track my bus? Why can’t I track my snow remover?” Fantastic how the private industry is pushing the public sector.
But in terms of financing, there are several options and all of them have their pros and cons. Grants are fantastic. They do take a lot of work to get. There are social impact bonds, which I think—in an emerging financial structure that can be really interesting, especially at smart city work. Public-private partnerships are huge. Kansas City funded its smart city project by way of that with Cisco and Sprint, a $16 million project that the city paid $4 million on. And really, what I think it is, is a conversation about the best way to fund these things is how you think of infrastructure. We usually think of infrastructure as roads and busses and bridges and we have to think of data as infrastructure. There was a fantastic USDOT, Department of Transportation smart city grant last year. Kansas City was a finalist along with Portland and some other cities and that was great. It was $50 million for smart city efforts. But what would be really fantastic and innovative is if we had DOT grants going forward that had infrastructure and plans for data in simply building a road?
How can we identify metrics? How can we put metrics on there for cities to use data to get to their residents and visitors on how to use that road? That is a sustainable financial infrastructure for cities that can go forward. And I’d also like to point out that Congresswoman DelBene and Senator Cantwell from the State of Washington are introducing a bill with a financing mechanism in it for cities for smart city projects going forward, all of which cities are paying attention to.
Meyer: The other mini-thing to just throw out here is part of the beauty of working in the public sector is that our work is the—or not mine anymore. The work of the public sector is in the public domain. So when Seattle breaks through on something, Baltimore can use it. I think you’ve seen this a lot with 18F. It’s part of a federal agency. They’ve built an incredible suite of products and services in the open; completely in the open and one of their projects, it’s an analytics platform; Analytics.usa.gov. Thirty-two cities have redeployed and instead of spending millions and millions of dollars to figure out how to prioritize what you fix, or it can be an indicator of what services are working or not working well. They’re able to stand on the shoulders of people who are working in the public. So I think that part of what I love about cities is that there are so many and that they can stand on each other shoulders.
Blauer: And we do a lot of copying of Kate’s work. [LAUGHTER] It’s true. Kansas City is something that we replicate across a number of other cities, and now Seattle, the work that’s happening there. But the network issue is a big issue and I think that one of the things that we’ve seen is that philanthropy can play a really important role in helping cities understand how they can quickly learn from other cities, how they can replicate the work. I know that Ben is coming out to moderate a panel after us and he’s doing a lot of work with how you can pair anchor institutions with cities and really think differently about how it is that we’re crafting what this sort of new frontier looks like in governance but then also, how do we learn from our neighbors? How do we normalize our problems so that we can say, “New Orleans and Seattle, you are tackling housing from different ends of a spectrum but there are some really good nuggets in there that you can digest?” And that, I think, is where we’re seeing some of the best work happening in the landscape.
Wootson: Let’s say you’re a one-person band watching this on Facebook with a solitary tear rolling down your cheek because you don’t have access to abundant resources or grants or whatever. What advice would you give to those people who get what you’re saying, who want to do what you can, but are so limited in their resources? Where do you start, what works best, what’s the biggest bang for your buck?
Garman: I’d tell them to go to Code for America. [LAUGHTER]
Meyer: I was going to say that, but I won’t.
Garman: Go ahead.
Meyer: So I see you. [LAUGHTER] So tons of people are in this situation. We’re talking about cities but there are counties where there is one person in charge of innovation or technology or whatever, you’re all over the country, there’s tons of people like you. In more than 70 cities in the country, there are groups. There’s Code for Tulsa, Code for Dayton, Code for Savannah, Code for Atlanta, all over the country full of your neighbors with technical and design leadership waiting to help.
Part of what’s funny is that sometimes people think that their local Code for America brigade, these groups of volunteers are just volunteers and often, people working in cities will meet each other. They’ll show up and say, “Oh, I didn’t know you came to these.” And it’s a place to get resources on open-source products you can redeploy. It’s a place to get training on usability testing. The City of San Francisco—Code for San Francisco has a UX working group where they will train anybody who shows up on the basics. There are so many—not just free resources but excellent resources and there is talent in every single one of these cities waiting to help.
Blauer: I think also and Kansas City is a really great example. Respond to surveys. Your government is trying to constantly get a diversification—
Garman: Bless you for that.
Blauer: [LAUGHTER] In feedback. That kind of quintessential stereotype of the town hall participant is real. We’ve got the same voices that have been echoed in the chambers of our town halls for generations and we need new voices in there. And so if you’ve got an issue that’s particularly passionate to you, if you are having difficulty accessing services and you know your neighbors are struggling with the same thing, show up, participate and respond to surveys. Because surveys are one of the leading ways that we’re now collecting sentiment data from the public and really, in a place like Kansas City, it’s influencing every service decision.
Garman: Oh, yeah. In Kansas City, for years, they’ve done this citizen satisfaction survey since 2005 and the top three are basic infrastructure complaints, easily and so last year, they said, “Great. Let’s fix it.” And they did an $800 million GO bond and it passed with 67%. It was nuts. Because we basically said, “Hey, you told us you wanted us to fix this. Help us fix it.” And now, it’s great and they’re using a wonderful data performance metrics to see and you can watch as that GO bond is executed over the next 20 years.
Blauer: Project by project, what’s happening around your house? It’s a way to connect to your neighbors. It’s also a way for you to create advocacy and it is really honestly, what I think public sector advocacy is going to look like in the 21st century, is really this intersection with the response of the government.
Garman: And I think that a lot of conversations about smart city are almost too focused on sensors, and some projects that I like to see are really people-centric including like how can we develop some sort of exchange between if you’re carrying your phone and you have an opt-in and there are privacy policies in place. Everything that we want to make sure and I can get a push notification as I’m walking down a wall, “Hey, the city is going to paint a mural here. Vote on which mural you want to see.” And then you vote and then a few weeks later, you walk and you see which mural won. As simple as an example that is, you just interacted with your government and you can see how your voice impacted the decision on this mural. And so when it comes time to asking hard questions, like how do you want us to spend your budget, we have a more of a habit in communicating with your government and I think that it’s really important that we focus, as we’ve lightly touched on, to have that people-centric perspective on it.
Blauer: And I’ll take the example a little bit further and say you’ve got a step counter on your phone. It’s telling you you’ve only walked 200 steps in the last hour. This is how you access your public park. This is an opportunity for you to get exercise. When’s the last time you talked to your primary healthcare physician? These are five primary healthcare physicians that are at a walkable distance from where it looks like you have an office. Do you need help scheduling an appointment? Are your children—do they have access to food? You’re eligible for a free lunch. This is how you sign up. These are all things that can be delivered based on basic information that you’re producing on a regular basis and the public is starting to anticipate or expect that this is how we perform because it’s the way that they’re buying services. It’s the way that they are getting groceries. It’s the way that they are getting rides.
If the government is lagging behind this wave, we’re going to end up doing so much catch-up and missing such a gigantic opportunity to really deliver better services, improve the health of the people that live in our cities, improve the environment all around us. And so I really want people to think really long and hard about the decisions we’re making right now.
Meyer: And I would say the one sort of pushback on this I would say is that I don’t think people are resisting weighing in on a mural. I think that people are shouting about what they want for their government and they’re not hearing back in many cases. The City of Anchorage just recently launched with the help of Code for Anchorage and Brendan Babb, their new chief innovation officer who was the head of Code for Anchorage before they hired him. They’re like, “Just do this all day, please.” They for the first time ever launched an SMS-based way to check your legibility for food benefits in English, but also in the indigenous languages of Anchorage and people needed that, people were waiting for that. Families are getting access to food around that and I think that the onus is on—I keep saying us, but the public sector to listen to people who are desperately asking for help and show up and count on your community to help you because they’re there and they’re dying to help.
Wootson: Lightning round with seconds remaining. [LAUGHTER] Like Kate talked about, Bill Gates earlier. He bought this big patch of desert and he’s going to build a smart city. What’s the one thing that he should either absolutely not do or absolutely do, in eight seconds or less?
Meyer: I’m going last. [LAUGHTER]
Garman: He should really find what are the lessons learned and help cities figure out how to fund such opportunities and I think make data use easy. How do we as a government figure out how to use data easily? As staff and as the people living in your city.
Blauer: Hire smart women. [LAUGHTER]
Meyer: I think he should cancel the project and give the money to Flint, Michigan to get clean water to people.
Wootson: Controversial. All right, panelists. That’s all the time. [LAUGHTER] That’s all the time that we have. Thank you, all. [APPLAUSE]
Content from Qualcomm:
Levine: I’m Ben Levine and with me is Raj Talluri from Qualcomm. I’m with MetroLab, which is a national network of cities and universities that seek to bring technology and analytics to local government and I think there are few companies that are as active in that transformation as a company like Qualcomm. So I want to start with an important question that’s been raised in the previous panels. From your perspective, can you just describe what the future city looks like?
Talluri: Yeah, Ben, thank you very much and it’s really my pleasure to be here. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in D.C. and it’s a great city. Every time I come here I realize how pretty it is. Smart cities; we spend a lot of time at Qualcomm in building basically the technology and the infrastructure that goes into connecting things like phones and things in the infrastructure in cities. We think of smart cities as cities that are extremely convenient for people to live in and are extremely efficient so that you don’t waste resources. I was sitting here listening to some of the panels. Transportation, getting people to go from place-to-place, utilities, and autonomous cars, the new things that are coming up. So places where all of those things work seamlessly and the people who live in the cities don’t really have to think about whether they’re smart or not. They’re just more convenient to live in. That’s kind of like how we look at it.
There’s a lot that goes into building those but that’s kind of how we see it.
Levine: And I think embedded in that question are two important technological transformations that are happening that are separate but related. And I wonder if you can dive into them. The first is the transition from 4G to 5G and I think we’re all familiar with 4G connectivity because there’s a constant reminder in the left-hand corner of our cellphones and I think that perhaps fewer people appreciate what’s going to happen as we transition to 5G. can you talk a little bit about that?
Talluri: Yeah, for sure. Fortunately, one of the fundamental things about making cities smart is connectivity. You have to make sure that things are connected to get more sufficiency out of something. And when I say things are connected—I’ll give a simple example that makes maybe the point drive home. If you think about water and how we distribute water among cities in many areas—and a lot of water does get wasted because at many of the junctions where the water pipes are, some water is leaking and it’s really hard to find out where it is, so you pretty much have to find out water is leaking and send someone out there to go look at every place and figure out where it is. But what we’ve been able to do in the last few years is build this technology and a similar technology as we have in our phones, the modem technology.
Let’s talk about 4G as the last generation of it. They would embed this little modem into the junctions where the water is and whenever there’s a little leak in water, we have some sensors that can detect something is leaking and this modem will then send a signal that says, “Here is the leak.” And then you’re able to send people there and fix that. That’s just a very simple example. You can think about the same for electricity, you can see the same for parking and so many other ways. Now, there is one difference, which is when the technology that we use to communicate the 4G technology. The original 4G technology has been really built for phones, which means you wanted it to be on your phone, you pick it up and you talk and you surf the web or whatnot.
And you charge the phone every night. Now, when you put these things in infrastructure in the cities, you don’t have the ability to charge them every night, so this thing has to last and be there for tens of years. So we came up with the standards body, the next generation of 4G technology called a CATM which basically stands for maybe more for the machine-to-machine communications. There’s a small modem that sits in there, but it works on two AA batteries. It can send a signal when something happens and then go dormant and stay there for 10 years. So that’s the version of 4G that’s working today. That’s an adaptation of a 4G technology that was built for mobile phones. Now, as we fast forward and think of millions and millions of things that are connected, that technology, while it is sufficient when we’re deploying it today, needs to evolve into something that can work when this many things are connected and something that can be extremely low latency and something that can give immediate access.
So in 5G, we are trying to solve those problems and enhance the 4G technologies to really work well with the internet of things, and many, many things have connected and those are not just phones.
Levine: So the second major technology train is the internet of things. Can you sort of talk about what are the use cases that we’re seeing? You mentioned the example of water leakage. Can you talk more broadly in the context of cities transforming how the internet of things will change cities?
Talluri: For sure. The word “internet of things” itself, now it’s become quite common and a fairly generic thing and you ask yourself the question, “What are those things?” And we at Qualcomm like to think about that as things in your home that are connected. This could be your circuit boxes, your TVs, your streaming speakers, your washing machines, your dishwashers, your thermostat, and your security cameras and so on. In the cities, you can think about these as anything that’s deployed in the cities. It could be your water meters, it could be electric meters, it could be parking lights, and it could be streetlights and signal lamps and any of those things. When you are able to connect those, when you’re able to put some processing in those, you can do very, very interesting things. I’ll give you a simple example. Actually, I was just thinking about this the other day.
I was driving and we all have these navigation systems on the phones that will tell you—we get so used to it we don’t remember directions anymore. We just follow that thing blindly; it says turn left, we turn left. But the funny thing is, that thing says turn left here, but it has no concept if the light is red or green. So, so many times you find yourself someone telling you, “Turn left.” You’re like, “Wait. This is red. I can’t turn.”
But if you think about it where that signal light is actually connected to your phone if you’re driving or to your car, it will only turn left when it’s green, so that’s another interesting example where we have all of this information, but we don’t have connectivity between these things. So we think of internet of things in the context of connecting all of these things to each other and to the cloud, so you can get that kind of conveniences that you live in in everyday life in the city.
Levine: And will the advances in connectivity and I guess, therefore, the advances in the internet of things, will that happen and is this sort of in three years, we’re going to have this technology or should we expect it to sort of be a constant transition. I know that there are attempts now to build testbeds essentially around 5G technology.
Talluri: Well, it’s happening a lot right now. It’s actually already happening very, very fast. A lot of people don’t see it. At Qualcomm, we said publicly that we ship over a million chips a day in the internet of things right now. We have shipped over a billion half-chips. So it’s happening fast and it’s happening in a way that is fairly seamless, and you don’t think about it, but it is happening right now. Like, as I mentioned, all electric meters, all the water meters, we’re replacing them all one at a time. So it is a gradual transition, and you will see it happen. And I tell people that, you know, if you think about homes and cities, you’re not going to wake up one day and suddenly find, “Wow, my city is smart,” or, “My home is smart.” It’s just going to be one of those things where gradually things get better and better and better and it just becomes seamless.
I’ll give you a simple example in the consumer space, which you will actually think about it. You know, so many of us use Spotify or whatever connected to speaker to play music; it just happened. You know, like you just stream music onto your speaker in the house. You don’t think about, “Where is my CD?” or anything, you just say, “Alexa, play me this song,” and it works. Right? So when did that happen? You know, when did your home suddenly get smart to play any music you want? That’s how it’s going to be in the cities. You know, it’ll happen one step at a time. Takes a little longer than home because the consumer cycles are a little bit different.
One way to do it, to answer your question, is to actually build a prototype of a smart city as something and deploy there first so people can experience what it’s like. But then from that you take elements that work, and you propagate them through the existing cities.
Levine: Terrific. I want to build on that a little bit. Kate from Seattle in the previous panel mentioned the fact that Bill Gates had brought property in Arizona to build a smart city. Sidewalk Labs recently made a big investment or a commitment for an investment in Toronto to think about how they can develop a 12-acre smart city kind of area. I’m curious, from your perspective, who is going to lead this transition? Is it going to be cities, is it going to be developers, is it going to be international countries? What do you see happening?
Talluri: Yeah, it’s very interesting. I mean, I think most of the time these kind of things, the way we see it happen is it happens, you know, definitely the municipalities and the administrative bodies of the cities will have a big say in how it gets deployed, when it gets deployed, and what methods we take to make sure these are safe and happen properly, for sure. But I also think people like Qualcomm will have to build the fundamental technology. And then our customers, people like GE and Philips and so on, will make the products. So the rollout will involve many, many people. You know, so, but building these kind of tax breaks is very important because we can prove all the technology. But when it’s rolled out at large scale into the hundreds of cities or thousands of cities in the world everybody will participate in it.
Levine: If you look back, say, five or 10 years, were you surprised at the growth or relative slowness of growth in particular sectors versus others? So was industrial IoT faster for example than local government smart cities deployments?
Talluri: Yeah, I mean, I think it is true that the local city smart city—local cities driving for change has been a little bit slower. But I don’t know if I was so surprised as much it just takes time without the government involved. But in industrial IoT—actually if I step back a little bit, the fastest growth in IoT has been in consumer, because if you think of the products you buy at home with the Nest thermostat or Amazon camera or whatever you see how fast connected things are coming. The next one has been industrial, and industrial mainly because there are efficiency gains. So if you think about a factory that is automating it. For them to have all these connected products just gives efficiency gain, so there is a clear monetary value associated there so that is happening next.
In cities it just makes people’s lives better, and with that comes indirect efficiency gains in productivity and so on. So it’s a little bit slower but a little more indirect. But for sure it’s happening. And if we have this conversation five or 10 years from now we’d be surprised how quickly we’ve gone there.
Levine: Terrific. Well, I think we’re all appreciative of Qualcomm, whether we know it or not, in terms of the impact it’s had on our daily lives and our technology uses. So Raj, thank you.
Talluri: My pleasure.
Levine: And I’d now like to turn it over to the Washington Post.
Talluri: Yeah, thank you very much. My pleasure.
Transformers Cities: Building from the city, up in Washington D.C.:
O’Connell: Welcome, everybody, to the last segment. I am Jonathan O’Connell of the Washington Post. This last segment is about Washington D.C., its economic development, urban revitalization. I have a wonderful panel here I’m really excited to have here. First, on my left we have Brian Kenner. Brian is deputy mayor for planning and economic development under Mayor Muriel Bowser. Then I have Nicole Mozeliak who is general manager for WeWork in the Mid-Atlantic territory. We are growing really fast in Washington, and very happy to have her. And Shawn Seaman. Shawn is principle and executive vice-president of PN Hoffman. PN Hoffman is the main developer behind the Wharf, the new waterfront development down in Southwest. It just opened. Perfect timing; I’m so glad to have Shawn here also.
I’m going to start with Brian. You know, part of the reason I’m really happy to have this session right now is that in a lot of ways Washington D.C. is booming. We have a growing population, growing tax revenue. What is your focus as deputy mayor during a time when at least on a lot of the demographic numbers Washington D.C. is really booming?
Kenner: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think the mayor probably says this best. She says that it’s no longer a situation where Washington is trying to attract things. For many years, really over the last 20 years, we were trying to get our first Costco, our first Target; we were trying to get our first sit-down restaurants in certain neighborhoods. And instead of that question, I think that the question that we’re confronting and a question that many high-cost cities are confronting and the question we’re going to be confronting going forward is, we want to make sure that we have all of those things in the places where they are not, right now. And so that’s why we spend a tremendous amount of time in my office focused around how do we provide economic incentives for things that are going into communities that have been under invested in the past; how do we continue to incentivize Starbucks and other places to go into communities that they haven’t gone into?
And then obviously how do we focus on affordable housing? You know, we in Washington, like many other cities we are increasingly becoming an expensive place to live. And we want to make sure that we provide places for people to live that have not only been here for five generations, but even if you’ve been here for five minutes we want the opportunity for you to be able to live in the District of Columbia.
O’Connell: Yeah. Nichole, I know you guys are really big investors in the Washington area—around the country, but Washington I know is a main focus for you.
O’Connell: You have the WeLive in Crystal City. There’s not very many. How many WeLives are there in America?
Mozeliak: Right now there’s two.
O’Connell: So there we go. Yeah, we’re one of the few places.
Mozeliak: Yeah, pretty awesome. I live there.
O’Connell: And then how many desks do you have from WeWork in the area?
Mozeliak: We have over 8,000 desks in the D.C. metro. So it’s over 10 buildings and about 8,000-plus desks.
O’Connell: And why is the Washington area such a focus for WeWork growth?
Mozeliak: I think it’s a natural evolution of the WeWork brand. When we start thinking about the cities that we want to be in, you think about incubator spaces, you think about places where thought leaders live, and certainly obviously D.C. is at the forefront of that. So it makes absolute sense for us to be in this space and to continue to grow and develop right alongside with the city and all of the policymakers that are here. And it’s not just about policy for WeWork, it’s also about our thought leaders, creative technology folks who are in our space. We have global enterprise in our space. So we have a nice collaboration and a nice community that represents all different business segments.
O’Connell: Shawn, many people may not have been to the Wharf yet. It’s only been open for, what, like six weeks, eight weeks now?
Seaman: Yeah, about six weeks.
O’Connell: So do you want to maybe just explain to people what they’ll see when they get down to Southwest and what the first phase of the Wharf is?
Seaman: Sure. the Wharf is really the district’s newest neighborhood. It’s in the Southwest quadrant. Many may be familiar with the historic fish market. It’s the oldest constantly activated fish market in the United States and it’s one of the historical assets that the Wharf was built off of. It’s a 3.3-million-squarefoot, mixed-use community. And it really is a neighborhood first, not a real estate project. It’s a mix of hotel, retail, residential. There’s affordable housing, a huge affordable housing component as part of the district’s mandate. There is office, half a million square feet of office in the first phase.
And the neighborhood focus was important for us. The district is a community built on neighborhoods. The strength of D.C. beyond the federal city is really the places where people live in the district. And Southwest has been a vibrant community. It was the location of the largest urban renewal project in the country’s history, and it’s been through some ups and downs. And the Wharf is the revitalization of the core of the Southwest quadrant of D.C.
O’Connell: One thing that I think connects the work that all of you do is particularly since the recession D.C. has been a big attraction for millennials. And I know there is sometimes too much attention on the millennials probably, but there’s a reason for that, which is all the apartment construction in the city is driven by millennials moving here for jobs, all the new restaurants we have. All those demographics have been driven by these millennials moving in. And more recent data shows that millennials are either leaving the city more frequently than they’re coming here, or when they reach a certain age they’re deciding to leave the city. I’m interested in hearing from each of you how that affects your work.
Shawn, I don’t know if you already have information about like who the customers of the Wharf are, if you know anything about who the apartment renters are, who is coming to the new restaurants that you have. What do you know so far?
Seaman: Well, I can tell you where the target was for us. We have two apartment buildings in the first phase. One is a 500-unit building that actually surrounds The Anthem; that’s our concert hall that we developed in partnership with I.M.P., a local concert promoter. The Anthem is the energy in that parcel. The residential wraps it, and there’s an acre of sort of communal space on the roof of The Anthem that the apartment users use. That was really targeted at sort of a millennial. Urban hipster was the name that the marketers came up with, but who doesn’t want to live next to a concert hall and live next—who below the age of 30 doesn’t want to live next to a concert hall—[LAUGHTER]—and live across the street from where you work?
And, you know, I think we were trying to come up with sort of a full-service environment where there is entertainment, there’s restaurants, there’s your workplace. And I think really what I’ve noticed is millennials are not really willing to commute long distances. I’ve seen the opposite. I think people are trying to get closer to the core, closer to the activity. And trying to provide opportunities as a developer we’re looking for places closer in not further out, at least at PN Hoffman.
O’Connell: Nicole, I think I assumed, not being an expert on WeWork, that all the members are between like 22 and 29 and would either be at WeWork if they weren’t like on their couch or something like that. Is that actually a fact or do you have a wide diversity of members?
Mozeliak: No, we have a pretty wide diversity of members. We do have a lot of the millennial generation. I think by just the natural migration of people into cities, I mean, you’re finding now that more than half of all of humanity lives in cities, and people are moving more and more into a city environment. To your point, Shawn, you don’t want the commute; you’re looking for the ease of all the services that are right at your fingertips, and a city has to offer that.
In a typical WeWork building, because we have such a vast community, we attract a more mature employee that will come into our space, and they become great members for us. We also have a millennial generation that’s fairly active. And what we’re looking at is ways that we can bridge, in a community environment, in a WeWork building, how does everybody get together and share ideas and incubate. And that’s really been kind of the secret sauce to what WeWork does, is we can really bring everyone together and find that common ground regardless of generation.
O’Connell: Right. I mean, WeWork tracks very closely with innovation and entrepreneurship and the startup companies obviously. So do y’all track—like, are you tracking the number of millennials and young workers moving to Washington? And now that it’s kind of tapered off, do you think, “Oh, maybe we don’t want to grow as much in Washington?” What factors do you look at?
Mozeliak: No, I mean, I look at a whole bunch of things when I look at how we expand. And we have a wonderful real estate team that’s based in our New York office, and they help us really look at some of the demographics. I would say Washington D.C. is still a huge expansion opportunity for us. We have no intention of slowing down in this market. And I can’t really share our future growth plans, but there’s some stuff coming down the pike.
I do think that there is some data that can be derived from our members. And we also have just partnered with the Aspen Institute to actually do some formalized studying that we can actually provide to cities and mayors around how to plan and what employees are looking for, and we can base that off of that partnership with the Aspen Institute and surveys of our members. Because we have over 160,000 members globally, so there’s some really rich data that will help people make decisions around how cities and urban planning happens in the future.
O’Connell: Yeah, absolutely. I actually think Shawn’s point about who wouldn’t want to live by a concert venue is wonderful because we, in Washington, have more and more places that are awesome to live if you’re 25. Like, you can get a great apartment; you can walk to your work; you can walk to a concert; you can walk to like 10 different great restaurants. I’m wondering for you, Brian, you know, part of your job I assume is figuring out how to keep those people as they become 30, they decide they want to have kids in some cases, they decide they want a bigger apartment in some cases even though many of the new apartments in the city are not very large. What are the city’s efforts to sort of retain millennial workers as they kind of age out of that concert-hall life?
Kenner: Yeah, and I’m glad you called it concert-hall life. That’s a great term. [LAUGHTER] You know, one of the things that we’re seeing in Washington D.C. is exactly what you mentioned. Many of the people who move here to start a job—and increasingly especially over the last six or seven years that’s been a private sector job not a public-sector job, because public sector job growth has been flat. Private sector job growth has really been climbing in the District of Columbia. So they’re coming here for a private job more likely than not. We are seeing increased family formation in the District of Columbia.
D.C.PS and charter school enrollment is increasing in Washington D.C. We are seeing those people who came here as a single are forming families. And they are sending their kids increasingly to either public school or charter school, but they are staying here in the District of Columbia. What that means is that we need to be focused around how do we get bedroom mixes to accommodate that. How do we get first-move-up opportunities for people?
I know there are a variety of real estate developers that are working around some interesting concepts for townhouses that will effectively be you move from an apartment into something like this, which is a two- to three-bedroom place. And that is the kind of housing stack that we’re going to need because we are an expensive city, because we are continuing that trend of being an expensive area. But more importantly people are finding the Washington D.C. and the Washington region to be a really attractive place to have a family and to have a job. And that is something that, you know, I think Tony Williams probably 20 years ago or so sort of said, we need to be getting more people to move into the district. We need people to stay. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing today.
O’Connell: Yeah, it’s a personal issue for me also. I am a father of young children. Every year I would say I have a friend who moves their family to Silver Spring. And just partly that is because they have an older housing stock of larger homes that are not all that expensive. And they’re dealing with longer communities, obviously, if they have to come downtown every day, but it’s a decision that I think—I just see people going through all the time. So this kind of rolls into the next topic, which, you know, for other big cities in America that have done very well the last five or 10 years, the New Yorks, the Bostons, the Seattles, the San Franciscos, all of them are dealing with the question of inclusivity and diversity and what we are going to do to prevent just becoming a city full of only the wealthy or only the very well-off or only the small-unit household sizes that can fit in, small apartments. Brian, what are you doing in terms of working on inclusivity as D.C. continues to grow?
Kenner: Thank you. A few things, one is that we recently released our economic development strategy which is really focused on doing two things for Washington D.C. over the next five years. One is growing our private sector economy, which continues this trend of continuing to diversity the economy in Washington D.C. But the second point is we are focused on increasing economic opportunity in those census tracts that have greater than 10% unemployment in the District of Columbia. And that is a very specific goal in our economic development strategy, which is we are going to be focused on making sure that we target those areas that are hardest hit in the District of Columbia. And I think that’s the first time that our economic development strategy in the city has really been focused on where we want to place economic incentives, where we want to be most impactful to Washington D.C.
The second thing that we’re doing is that we know that increasingly technology and innovation jobs are becoming very popular in Washington D.C. And earlier this year we opened sort of the first—I think it’s the first national—inclusive innovation incubator which is really focused around how do we take advantage of the fact that Washington D.C. has one of the highest percentages of female entrepreneurs in the entire country. That deserves applause, by the way. [APPLAUSE] We also have one of the highest proportion of people of color entrepreneurs in technology and innovation as well. And we want you increasingly to think—if you thinking about starting a company, whether you’re located outside of the district or whether you’re located in the district and you are a woman or a person of color, we want you in Washington D.C. So we made a personal investment along with Howard University to create something that is really unique in the country, and I think that that speaks again to where we’re putting our resources.
O’Connell: Yeah. I think this seems like a growing area of interest for WeWork. Is there something you all are doing in terms of inclusivity that is new?
Mozeliak: Sure. I mean, I think that we look at all of the real estate and make good decisions based on where we think we can grow and support our neighborhoods that we’re in. We’re very inclusive. We want to be part of the community. We don’t just walk into a space and try to insulate ourselves. So I think that your policy falls naturally into where we want to be. I think the other thing that we do, and we’re pretty good at it, is incubating the nonprofits, bringing them into our space, giving them the economic advantages of some discounting to allow them to be in the space so that they can start to incubate and affect the community that they’re in. A lot of times they are a nonprofit, a startup that’s working directly in that particular neighborhood and so they want to be based in that neighborhood and really be the headquarters for what they’re trying to do.
And most recently, you may have seen and heard, we’ve just done the veterans in residence launch on November 9th, and we’re looking at hiring and employing 1,500 veterans. And we also have them in our space through a partnership with Bunker Labs so that they can actually come out of the military. They’re veterans who can then start their own businesses and really start to return into society and provide in the communities that they are reentering. So it’s pretty exciting for us, and we’re happy about—
O’Connell: Yeah. I think it’s interesting. You know, Brian was talking about trying to—we have unfortunately a wider disparity in terms of equality in the city, like a lot of big cities. And you’ll notice if you look at the demographics that Ward 7 and 8 east of the river are behind in lots of economic categories from the rest of the city. So you hear Brian talking about he’s trying to get a Starbucks to go east of the river. He’s got a Busboys and Poets that’s on the way at some point hopefully, right?
Kenner: On the way.
O’Connell: So like would WeWork ever open in a neighborhood east of the river? I don’t know how well you know D.C. or not. I don’t know what the metrics are that you all look at.
Mozeliak: Yeah, I mean, I think that it’s within the realm of possibility. I think it really becomes a partnership.
O’Connell: Oh, you’re going to get a call later.
Mozeliak: Yeah, I think it becomes a conversation that we need to have and make sure that it works for everybody. And I think that we have a vested interest in D.C., and if this helps advance D.C. then I think that there’s opportunities for us to explore further expansion. I mean, we’re not walking away from the city of D.C., and we’re here to support it. So we’ll figure out the right appropriate ways to be beneficial to the community.
O’Connell: Yeah, what’s it like for you, Shawn, trying to be an inclusive part of the Southwest neighborhood.
Seaman: Well, two points to that end. I think the project itself being part of the deputy mayor’s portfolio for economic development projects for the district has allowed us to do things that are fairly progressive as far as affordable housing and jobs for district residents. And I think that sort of investment in the east of the river communities in job creation is very important. We’ve spent $350 million on our project alone with district residents—district-owned businesses rather. We have put district residents to work, over 600 during the construction phase of the project, and over 30% of those were east of the river, which is part of the deputy mayor’s mandate. It was part of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, which many may remember was created back in the early 2000s, late 1990s, with the earlier administrations. So I think that was an important part of our project. The affordable housing goes down to 30% of the area median income. That’s 30,000 or thereabouts for the 30% tranche and then 60% AMI. We have workforce housing for workforce residents. So there’s a broad spectrum of housing at Southwest.
And as far as being inclusive, Southwest is actually in Ward 6 not Ward 7 and 8. But the neighborhood in Ward 6, Southeast and Southwest is probably the strongest that I’ve worked with in the district. And they feel passionately about all of the development that’s going on in both the ward, in the Southwest quadrant, but also the yards and the Capitol Riverfront district. It’s seen an explosion of development projects. It’s probably the most active ward construction-wise in the district right now. And they’re actively involved in trying to make sure that families can stay in their ward, that schools are improved, and that the general quality of life is improved for that entire area of the city.
O’Connell: Yeah, one thing I think has been interesting over the recent years to see some of these really big megaprojects open in different parts of the city and sometimes in parts of the city where—like you all—where a lot of the things you’re bringing are much nicer than the things we had there before, really nice restaurants, chef-driven concepts. If you go down to the Wharf, you’ll see these beautiful attractions along the waterfront and the concert hall. It’s really, really nice stuff.
And each of those developments had to make decisions about what’s open to the public, how to keep everybody feeling safe, how to do lighting, and you can see little things differently. If you go to CityCenter downtown they have an open public park and places for people to go and whatnot. But then you go to the Yard in Southeast, and I remember they have that water feature in the Yards, which was not built for people to go into. It was just built for like people to enjoy. And now you go down there and it’s almost like 100 kids in there all the time, including my kids, with like bathing suits, goggles, like the whole deal. What kind of decisions have you had to make about how kind of open to the public and how—you know, there’s like the spectrum of keeping it open to the public but also keeping it safe. What are the decisions that you’ve had to make in Southwest in terms of just being open to the public?
Seaman: Sure. Well, I think the biggest decision we made was turning the fronts of the buildings to face the water, which I think was one of the mistakes that was made in the ‘60s and ‘70s during the renewal plan for the Southwest waterfront. And I think the businesses ultimately failed because the real asset for the district is its water. I mean, we have over 20 miles of waterfront in D.C. Most of it is federally controlled. But when you have an opportunity to control a mile of it that’s district owned, through the efforts of the deputy mayor, the mayor’s office, and also our congresswoman, Norton, trying to get that land back from the federal government so it could be actively used by the district, that was probably the biggest decision we made.
But then creating spaces for people. You know, there’s been mention of art and public spaces. I think at the Yards the greatest art there is the fountain. And, I mean, it’s basically the swimming pool for Southeast. You know, families take their kids down there. It’s fantastic. And likewise we created four public peers at the Wharf. There was never an opportunity to go out on the water and look back at the city. Now we have four different public peers. There’s one that’s focused on civic activity. There’s a recreation peer. It’s got a boat launch. It’s got a jitney that takes people to the East Potomac Park. I mean, previously you couldn’t get from one side of the channel to the other, and that sort of thing is there. We built a fire feature at the end it. You know, it was sort of the last thing we designed on the recreation peer, but it’s become sort of the central hub of the waterfront activity for us.
O’Connell: Just a reminder to the audience and you all that are following online, we are using the hashtag #Transformers if you want to ask a question. I’m going to start taking questions in a minute or so here. But I would be remiss if I did not bring up transportation today. Saving Metro—I don’t think that’s too strong of a term here—has been a priority for the whole region for a number of years now. It definitely has not been solved. I’m interested from both Shawn and Nicole about if you have information or expectations about how many people who come to your properties will be arriving by Metro versus car, bike, et cetera. What are your thoughts on that?
Mozeliak: I don’t have any statistics on that, but I will tell you that I think it is a huge draw in terms of proximity of our buildings, ease of transportation. Certainly as you look at urban planning and the way density and the shift in the way we live, and work and more and more millennials and/or older generations are moving back into cities, they want to become less reliant on cars. And so I think that it’s a natural expectation that public transportation needs to be ready, available, and accessible to the masses.
O’Connell: What about you, Shawn? Do you have any idea how many of—like how people are going to get to the Wharf? How much of a part is Metro of that?
Seaman: Well, we have two metro access points at L’Enfant Plaza and Waterfront Station. We’re still about a quarter-mile walk to either of those, so we looked at transportation very carefully when we designed the project. We have 1,300 parking spaces in our first phase, but that’s obviously not enough if we have 6,000 at the concert hall. And we looked at the parking as sort of a shared resource. We did a shared parking analysis, and we really thought a lot of the office users would look for alternate transportation, so we have over—I think it’s over 1,200 bicycle parking spaces in our parking garage. We have three at the Capital Bikeshare stations. We created our own shuttle that has a loop through Southwest that stops at L’Enfant Plaza. It goes to the mall and hits the spy museum down the L’Enfant promenade.
The jitney that I mentioned and then the water taxi; Entertainment Cruise lines and the Potomac Riverboat Company joined forced to create a water taxi. I mean, there have been water taxis in the past, but this is really sort of a regional transportation solution. They built two new boats specifically for the Potomac River. And it serves right now Georgetown and Alexandria, but I can imagine boat travel actually being a legitimate way to get around the district. You know, it’s convenient, it’s pleasant, and it can serve so many different neighborhoods in the district.
And it crosses over state lines too. I mean, you can hit National Harbor in Maryland; you can hit Alexandria in Virginia; you can go further down the Potomac River, so it’s sort of a regional solution. Our location is right on the water right in the middle of the city, so it couldn’t be better located.
O’Connell: I see a lot of developers wrestling with how much parking to put in their project, whether it’s an office or an apartment building. Am I wrong that you all have parking that could be converted to something else down the road? Is that right? Did you guys think about that?
Seaman: The first level of below-grade parking is about 13-and-a-half, 14 feet tall. So you could actually put retail uses in there. Right now we have put a couple of restaurants, and the kitchen for the Requin restaurant is actually below grade. And then also there’s a music venue called Union Stage that’s not yet open, but it’s actually entirely below grade, so you access it off an alley and then go down stairs. And then in the second phase we’re looking at replicating that, perhaps get a grocery store or a market that the largest part of the footprint is below grade so it’s more like an iceberg. And it has an entrance on the ground floor, but most of it is below grade.
O’Connell: That’s so interesting. What about you, Brian? How critical is Metro to the work that you’re doing?
Kenner: I actually could not overstate how important. And I will broaden that to public transportation, not just Metro, that public transportation is to the vitality not just of Washington D.C. but this entire region. I know that there has been a lot of talk, as there should be, around Metro, especially about the long-term viability of making sure the Metro is successful. You know, the truth of the matter is that our region has really just been funding one-year increments to make sure that it works. I know the district has been, I think, pretty clear and I know our council even voted recently that we are interested in providing a solution for the long-term funding for Metro. We’re hopeful that Maryland and Virginia also sort of see the light a little bit and come on board.
But I think sometimes I have to remind myself and remind other people, we are not Houston; we are not Charlotte; we are not Nashville, who are struggling with building out their public transportation network, who are trying to figure, “How can I spend billions of dollars to expand my fledgling system?” We have a system. We just have to worry about how to maintain it. And so I think that from that perspective we are much better than many other places are in the United States.
The other thing that I just want to say about transportation is that Metro is a large component of it. Bike ability, shared vehicles, increased boat access; Washington D.C. is one of the rare places in the United States where you can get to your job through a lot of different methods, and we need to take advantage of that more. There’s a map we have in our office that looks at development in 2030. And if you look at where that development occurs in 2030, 75% of it is within a half mile of Metro stops. And so this reliance on public transportation, whether that’s Metro or other places, is only going to increase as we continue to grow out because public transportation is our future.
O’Connell: Yeah, one point on that is that, at the same time obviously people are still getting to a lot of the work, jobs, restaurants, et cetera, with cars. You recently decided to back a major investment in a parking garage at Union Market. If you’ve ever been to Union Market, the developers have this really aggressive plan for growth in future years—apartments, hotels, offices, more retail. Why did the mayor’s office decide to back an investment in paying for a parking garage in Union Market.
Kenner: Yeah. The good thing about this, it wasn’t just the mayor’s office. It was also the majority of the council who did this as well. The Union Market area, I think two things sort of differentiate it a little bit more than some of the other projects. One, is it really is going to be much more retail focused than I think some of our other areas. I think that they get close to about a million square feet of retail when they finally build out, which is fairly unusual in Washington D.C., to have that kind of concentration. And when you have that much retail, we know that we want it to be and it is designed to be a regional destination, not just a destination that you can get to from the New York Avenue Metro, which by the way is how I’m going to get there increasingly. But other people from Reston to Laurel from Baltimore from Boston are more likely going to take a car to get there. And so we wanted to make sure that there was some consideration for how regional draws and the ability for people to be able to access that.
O’Connell: All right. We have a question from Facebook that I think is probably best for Brian. The questioner asks, “As D.C. tries to attract more people in tech and the startup community to Washington, what is the city doing to sort of cooperate or use the talent that we have growing here when people are coming out of school here or grew up here?”
Kenner: Yeah, we have a very strong pipeline from the existing universities that are producing awesome graduates. And so we are continually providing opportunities for those graduates to see the business opportunities, see the job openings that are happening. Something else that I also wanted to mention is that it doesn’t just stop at our universities. You know, we have hospitals; we have other companies that produce a tremendous amount of talent. I know that you’ve covered the LivingSocial project in the past. And I think sort of the great storyline about LivingSocial, even though it no longer exists today, A, is that the city didn’t put any money into because we had a performance-based incentives, but more importantly, you’ve got great people like the Framebridge founder who used to work at LivingSocial. So like even if a company is not successful, we’re finding that the talent that is contained in that company stays in this region, which is what we need.
O’Connell: Yeah, absolutely. I would love to take more questions. We’re out of time. Thank you all so much for being here. I really appreciate the conversation.
Mozeliak: Thank you for having us.
O’Connell: It could have gone another hour, easily, for me. And thank you all for coming. I appreciate having you also.