- Lisa Nisenson is helping to re-open the Florida House Institute, a Sarasota demonstration house that launched sustainable community development here as well as imitators across the country. She has worked as citizen activist, policy wonk, author, cheerleader and blogger (The Planning Edge) for sustainable places.
First things first — I know the Big Gulp ban is not sitting well. How could the mayor who got rid of second-hand smoke fumble by even touching the American rite of consuming 32 ounces of sugar and caffeine and fizz? Somewhere, there is actually a conversation worth having on “second-hand health care costs,” personal responsibility, our food system and the many people genetically hard-wired for obesity no matter what.
While that conversation will have to wait, there is a core concept behind Big Gulp-gate. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is driven by data. Whether it’s obesity-related health care costs, transportation or emergency response, Bloomberg has turned log-ins, costs, calls and complaints into useful information. So what did he do, and what can we learn here?
1) He tore down the walls — There is a great story about how Bloomberg eschewed the corner office and recreated a Wall Street-like bullpen from which he governs. He notes: “Walls are barriers, and my job is to remove them.” There are many complaints here in Sarasota about barriers, silos and insider circles. We could learn a thing or two from the billionaire mayor who realized he could work better sitting in a cubicle.
2) He opened up the data — Bloomberg turned his city’s 311 call service (non-emergency reports) into a data trove and opened it up to the nerds. A 2010 Wired article provides a fascinating view. Just think of what students, retirees and data geeks could do with the thousands of calls that come into the city and county hotlines. Locally, SCOPE has initiated the Community Data project, which begins to open up data sets. Let’s bookend this effort by working backwards from our local problems to discover and use the information that matters.
3) He incited vision — Bloomberg led a vision of New York with simple, but compelling parts. First, creating neighborhood livability where trees, bike lanes and parks are as important as pipes and freeways. Second, building a technology capital to rival Silicon Valley. Third challenging the masses to be the experts.
One example that shows the power of this vision is NYC Digital. Established in January 2011, NYC Digital’s approach is focused on initiatives that span five core pillars: Access to Technology, Education, Open Government, Engagement, and Industry, outlined in the Road Map for the Digital City. Bloomberg hired Rachel Stern as the Chief Digital Officer and has hosted several “hackathons” to develop apps to make city living better. The effort also spawned the “Digital Jobs Map” that distills economic development to three core mapping needs: digital companies and start-ups, funders and work space. Through his own philanthropic work, he initiated the “Mayor’s Challenge” to inspire and share new ideas around the country.
That’s how Bloomberg works, but it’s not always easy or non-controversial. Like Sarasota, NYC has seen financial scandals, police problems and even parking snafus. He had to fight off Senator and Mrs. Schumer to build bike lanes in Brooklyn. He seems to be at his best when paying attention to daily governance while turning talent loose on economic vitality, livability and sustainability.
This talent thing is most applicable here in Sarasota. We have so much human capital and so many assets that we don’t need a leader who creates new ideas and vision statements. We need a quilter-in-chief — someone who can inspire, focus, link, and promote our current patchwork of natural and built resources, people, places and organizations into a unified, well-crafted and highly-recognized whole. Are you ready to stitch?