The Future of Everything covers the innovation and technology that is transforming the way we live, work and play, with monthly issues on health, money, artificial intelligence and more. This month it’s Cities & Real Estate, online from June 4 and in the newspaper on June 11.
For those who want to know what the United States might look like 20 years from now, a look at a handful of small and medium-sized cities offers clues. As mayors seek to fill gaps in their budgets, help people who have lost their jobs, or fix crumbling infrastructure, they turn to ideas that would have been unthinkable decades ago. They’re testing ambitious social programs, including universal income and repairs, adding sensors to everything from sewers to streetlights, and testing autonomous shuttles.
American cities have always been testing labs for new ideas, but the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of innovation. The pandemic has created a ‘sense of urgency’ to address issues such as economic inequality, lack of child care and unequal internet access, says Debbie Cox Bultan, CEO of NewDEAL, a network of progressive elected officials .
Bold and controversial ideas are often easier to test in cities than at the federal level, where legislative obstruction and partisan deadlock make it difficult to pass laws. Their supporters hope that if they work they will eventually spread across the country. “These local initiatives are nimble,” says Robin Street Simmons, a former Evanston, Ill., City councilor, who led the campaign for a repair program in the city. “We are able to respond quickly and hear precisely from our neighbors whom we serve. “
Here’s a look at 10 great ideas being tested in small and mid-sized cities across the United States.