Cities and innovation

Everyone these days is on an innovation kick.  Innovation is the new hot idea – the next big thing.  Even the provincial government is talking about an internal innovation agenda within the bureaucracy.

I hope NB cities don’t miss the point.

Innovation at the city government level should also be part of this innovation agenda.  I worry that cities will grind down any kind of spending that might have been used to be innovative as they are relentlessly pressured to focus on ‘core services’ such as snow removal or garbage collection.

In the last year or so I have travelled a lot – Chicago, Toronto, Boston, Sao Paulo, Halifax – and I had a devil of a time finding free WiFi in the downtowns.  Moncton, however, just about everywhere I go in the downtown, there it is.  Free WiFi.

Again, the core services crowd will scoff at this – a luxury Moncton doesn’t need.  They would say the city should eliminate WiFi on its buses and downtown and shave $0.0001 off its tax rate.  They would take this fine grain comb to all city spending – culture, parks, tourism, even economic development – and would end up saving a few cents on the tax rate but gutting the city’s ability to be part of the innovation agenda.

There is more to innovation than WiFi.  Innovative thinking is needed when it comes to municipal water systems, worker pensions, downtown development, and a host of other important cogs that keep the machine working well.

But if you grind down spending to the bare minimum you will get core services but also atrophy.

I hope our municipal leaders keep this in mind in this era of austerity.