October 8, 2014 - From the October, 2014 issue

CityLab 2014: Mayors Bloomberg & Garcetti on MunicipaI Innovation

To open CityLab 2014: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges, former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg focused on the growing importance of municipalities as centers of innovation. Noting an increased emphasis on accountability emerging in cities, Bloomberg encouraged ongoing dialogue  among mayors and local leaders. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti followed by sharing his “public CEO” committment to smartly using city data to drive and improve government services. MIR offers edited excerpts of both their CityLab comments.

Eric Garcetti

“While Washington and other national capitals are paralyzed by politics, leaders in cities are getting big things done. City governments are first-hand challenging assumptions about what is possible. They are using data in smart ways to target problems.” -Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg: While Washington and other national capitals are paralyzed by politics, leaders in cities are getting big things done. City governments are first-hand challenging assumptions about what is possible. They are using data in smart ways to target problems. They are holding themselves accountable for results, which is not something you see at the state or federal level.

City leaders are creating partnerships across sectors, bringing new ideas and resources to the table. They are finding new ways to get citizens involved in building better cities. They’re learning from other cities—sharing promising ideas and lessons learned. It’s fascinating how much each of the C40’s 69 cities from around the world cares what everybody else is doing. I’ve never seen people so interested in idea transfer. Cities are creating a culture of innovation in government as an expectation, not an exception. They are places where creativity and risk-taking is supported and encouraged—something you don’t often find government.

I call this creativity an environment of continuous innovation. Bloomberg Philanthropies looks for opportunities to help that take root and flourish in cities. One way is by bringing bright minds together for face-to-face conversations like we’re doing here at CityLab, thanks to our great partners: The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. LA is a natural fit for CityLab because of the focus Mayor Garcetti has put on innovation.

We think competitions can help incentivize innovation while also fostering collaboration. Today I’m happy to announce that we’re launching a new competition focused on a major challenge cities around the world are facing: road safety. Traffic crashes take more than a million lives each year and injure tens of millions of people. 90 percent of those deaths are in low- and middle-income countries. Every one of them is a tragedy. Most could be prevented with better rules, enforcement, and smarter infrastructure.

The same values drive the work of so many other innovators here today. Jim Andersen knows that most of the world’s people live in cities, and that number is expected to double by the year 2050. As such numbers increase, so do the challenges we face in improving public health, creating jobs, and confronting climate change. I met with the Prime Minister of India yesterday, and he’s got a program called 100 Smart Cities. India will have 100 cities of 10 million people each in a few years.

Everyone moving from the country into the cities creates a great opportunity, but also makes the jobs of mayors more difficult and challenging. We think cities can meet these challenges—but they always have to be reaching higher, thinking bigger, and improving the ways they operate and serve their citizens. All of us can play a part in that, which is what CityLab is all about. This is a chance to bring people together to talk about what works in cities and to make new connections.


Walter Isaacson: What does it mean to be a public CEO, rather than a mayor?

Eric Garcetti: There is no real playbook for the public CEO. Unlike all the mayors here and those working for the public sector, the private sector has a strong curriculum—a tradition of mentoring and being mentored. Even the non-profit world has that development. But suddenly, one day you read the city charter and it says you’re the CEO of a 10 billion dollar enterprise that runs ports, airports, and water-and-power systems. You get the phone call in the early morning that something is going on in your city, and your response is something you have to develop on your own.

CityLab has been a great part of that—as was the Rodel Fellowship that I did at The Aspen Institute, which brought half Democrat, half Republican young elected officials together. 

The most important thing I’ve learned in the 14 months I’ve been a public CEO—and I don’t often quote Ross Perot—is his statement: “I spend about 60 percent of my time trying to recruit the right people, 30 percent trying to retain them, and the rest of my job is 10 percent.”


As mayor, you have to respond to emergencies. Mayors often aren’t defined so much by the plans that we have, but by our reactions to the events we didn’t plan.

  I keep in touch with the network of mayors that came together last year through CityLab—the class of 2013. When we all went to the White House together last year, we went around the table for an hour and a half describing what was going on in our cities. 

For example, the Seattle mayor is working on the minimum wage, and I’ve proposed raising the minimum wage here, as well. We’ll talk to each other about that experience and how we lead such a campaign. From New York to Chicago, we try to transplant the best ideas from place to place.

Being a public CEO is very different—it’s open sourced. You’re not competing against another company. It’s more like what Elon Musk is doing with Tesla, where he makes all of his plans available for everybody. That’s the point: A great idea from Shanghai might be here in Los Angeles tomorrow. 

Walter Isaacson: How do you inculcate and continue to nurture an innovative culture within City Hall?

Eric Garcetti: It has to be both a top and bottom approach. As mayor, I’ve encouraged my managers to “follow from the front.” I want the worker down in the trenches to “lead from the line.” I spend time every week calling line workers and tell my staff to collect stories about workers who have done that.

You can also introduce CompStat, which we’re doing in every single department.That creates accountability. CompStat measures statistics and specific goals, then drives people toward accountability to those goals. It is used a lot in policing, but hadn’t been used in other departments in Los Angeles really. Now, for example, we’ve got a BarkStat for animal services—collecting data we can then use to make better policy and kill fewer animals. 

Walter Isaacson: Are those data tools open? Can the public find them online now?

Eric Garcetti: We have an Open Data directive. I contracted a great innovator from Qualcomm to be our first Chief Innovation and Technology Officer, Peter Marx. He and others oversee a culture where everything we collect we now share. Whether it’s for the app producer, for the media to have accountability, or for the citizen to know where her money is being spent, it’s really critical for us to do that. It’s resulting in innovation.

Armed with data, the citizen and the line worker can actually figure things out. Our sanitation workers have tablets now, to make sure they’re going to the right places. Our workers have become the innovators. We have created innovation teams for the first time in the City of Los Angeles, building on Mike’s work in New York, and what other mayors have done around the country.


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