The Rise of Municipalities

I’ve recently been thinking about the success and proliferation of government 2.0 and open data within municipalities. It seems to me that local government is best positioned to provide government 2.0 services and open data to citizens. The state and federal level also have many opportunities, but a lion’s share belongs to municipalities.

At the local level services are more immediate, if only for their geographic proximity. We want to know when our garbage and recycling will be picked up, when the road, sidewalks and fire hydrants will be cleared of snow, what are the best days to water our lawns, when the pothole outside of our house or on the way to school will be fixed, where are the best restaurants, where is the closest park, what is the best bus route or less congested traffic route to get us to work in the morning, and where are the parking spots.

New York City is leading the world with municipal open data and government apps. One example is Work +, which helps people working from home get out into the community by finding places nearby that are good for working. Or how about the Funday Genie, an app for planning a free day with a unique algorithm for a smart, personalized itinerary of fun things to do with your day? Embark NYC provides an elegant and simple app for citizens who want to get around on the New York subway, and it even works with underground with no cell signal. 596 Acres helps the citizens of Brooklyn become aware of vacant public land in their neighborhoods and provides tools to support communities organizing to get access for growing food and providing educational programs. These examples, and many more can be found at the BigApps3.0 site.

But you don’t have to go to the Big City to find great examples of #localgov20. The City of Edmonton has the mobile trash app, iPhone events calendar, Volunteering “Not for Profit” organizations iPhone app, and iFish Alberta, just to name a few. Vancouver has apps that let citizens know when there garbage will be picked up and where to find parking spots.

It will be interesting to see the evolution of municipalities in the next decade. I believe municipalities are well positioned to leverage the changes in government 2.0 and open data. As municipalities provide more locally relevant data and services, we may see a shift of focus and funding from the provincial/state/federal levels of government to the local level. We also may see a consolidation of municipalities into larger super cities such as we see in New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. In Canada, we’ve seen the consolidation of Toronto with its 5 neighboring municipalities in 1998, and a similar consolidation of Ottawa, Hamilton, and Greater Sudbury in 2001.

The other thing that cities tend to do well is collaborate with each other. With tight budgets and important services to provide, local governments are motivated to innovate, share and synergize with other municipalities with the goal of doing more with less. A recent example of this is the U.S. Conference of Mayors task force chaired by San Francisco Mayor, Edwin M. Lee, that wants “to help build an ecosystem that will help cities advance and prioritize innovation to improve government.”

Cities are smaller than state/provincial/federal government, and therefore usually more agile, responsive and closer to citizens and their needs. As we move from a vending machine model of government (where citizens put tax dollars in and receive services) to a more collaborative, citizen-centric approach, I believe we may also see a corresponding shift of some services from the provincial/federal level of government to the local one.

PS. I’m experimenting with a new format for these blog posts. Rather than spending too much time with an idea and ending up with a draft I don’t publish. I’m committing to throwing half-formed, more spontaneous, less self-censored ideas into the blogosphere. In other words, I’m taking some risks and invite collaboration and feedback. Please excuse typos.

Back to you …