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Urban Innovation for All, by All: A Mayor’s Perspective

Innovation is our opportunity to bring our heads, hearts and hands to bear on the challenges and opportunities of our time.

The skyline of Louisville, Ky.
Shutterstock/Todd Taulman
Editor's note: In September 2014, Louisville was selected to participate in the first cohort of the City Accelerator, an initiative of Living Cities and the Citi Foundation, which helps cities advance innovative efforts to work more effectively and harness that increased capacity to improve the lives of their low-income residents. No stranger to innovation, Louisville's focus in the City Accelerator is to institutionalize the work already done through its Office of Performance Improvement (OPI). Specifically, Louisville is applying innovative practices to help solve challenges around vacant and abandoned properties, fire and EMT services, and residents dually diagnosed with mental illness and substance abuse. 

Louisville is working to embed innovation practices in the heart of city government, with heavy engagement from its mayor, The Honorable Greg Fischer. Below, Mayor Fischer discusses the opportunity innovation can bring to all cities. Mayor Fischer will also be hosting Governing's Summit on Government Performance & Innovation in Louisville on Feb. 11-12.


People all over the world continue to migrate to cities as places for socio-economic opportunity, rich cultural experiences and vibrant community. Cities are now where most of the world’s population calls home and I can tell you there is no more exciting work to do than be a mayor in the 21st century. I have only recently come to public service after many decades as an inventor, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist and I brought the values and tools that served me so well in the private sector to this job. I know we are swimming in a sea of ideas and advice about how public service should be managed, but those who work with me know that regardless of your role, the job is a disciplined balance of daily work, continuous improvement and breakthrough work.

Daily work is the day-to-day tactical activities we undertake that are core to our position or function. Continuous improvement represents the need to continually identify and make incremental improvements to the way we work and the quality services we deliver. Breakthrough work or innovation creates a step change in the outcomes we achieve. All elements are components of “the job” and everyone has a role to play in continuous improvement and innovation.

Innovation is our opportunity to bring our heads, hearts and hands to bear on the challenges and opportunities of our time. We know that American ingenuity is the operating system that has given us ever increasing life expectancy and technologies that convert mindless toil to time that we can give to our children and our neighbors. That same ingenuity, when applied to our urban challenges and opportunities, means that we must always hold our eyes and minds to realizing new ways of providing services and encouraging others to co-create solutions with government. To accomplish this, we must be open and transparent about the challenges and short-comings of government. Everything from our community’s Strategic Plan to our operational metrics tracked in LouieStat, to raw data accessible through our Open Data Portal is available to the public.

In Louisville, we have sent the message that everyone in our city is expected to bring new solutions when the opportunity for social impact cannot be met with business as usual. Our work in vacant and abandoned property, activating blight with tactical urbanism projects (Resurfaced/Lots of Possibility) is one example. Similarly we have enjoyed opening our doors to startup companies such as Opportunity Space, Propeller Health and Durham Labs to work together to deliver dramatically new ways of looking at our health and place.

This kind of embrace of innovation has extended to some of our largest companies as we celebrate and activate a local community around GE’s FirstBuild (the world’s first makerspace/microfactory for making appliances). We also know that the nonprofit community can be an innovation partner of great importance. Here we have joined forces with the American Printing House for the Blind and our Code for America Brigade (CDA) to make government open data part of improving lives of special needs groups. Our CodeLouisville work connecting free online technology courseware from our library to disadvantaged youth represents a radical departure from old ideas of classrooms as the only roadway to educational attainment to escape poverty.

There is no problem that we cannot solve in our cities if we get up in the morning committed to improvement and wide open to fresh and truly unconventional ways to help all of those in our community realize their full potential.

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