Hi everyone, I’m thrilled to join the Microsoft Technology & Civic Engagement Team. My work focuses on partnering with civic leaders across sectors to explore opportunities that leverage technology for the public good. With over half the world’s population now living in urban areas, and up to 2/3rds by 2050, cities are more important than ever before—and Microsoft recognizes this. While the bulk of my focus will be local, the possibilities to scale positive civic initiatives that stick are incredibly exciting. As city governments do more with less, and as we ask our communities to take on more, the potential of strategic multi-stakeholder partnerships — with the public, private, and non-profit sector — becomes more important to achieving more livable and equitable cities.
As a city planner, it may seem like an unusual path to join a technology company. What links it all together is a commitment to making our cities more livable, equitable, and just for our communities. The built environment — or how we construct and design our cities — has an enormous impact on our lives. We all intuitively understand that our zip code — the transportation, housing, and education options in your backyard— added together, determines your access to opportunity. In other words, can we walk to work or do we sit in traffic? What kind of access to good schools and jobs do we have in our neighborhood? Do our buildings run on renewable energy or climate changing fossil fuels? Can we count on access to clean potable water? Do we breathe clean air or suffer from pollution fueled asthma?
Increasingly, the field of planning is no longer only where the built environment meets policy, but it’s also where those areas intersect with data and new technologies. Recently we’ve seen a dramatic shift as new tech innovations have pushed and changed cities. We’ve seen this transformation take many forms: from new open data initiatives; to the rapid transformation of mobility from bicycle share programs to companies like Lyft & Uber; in government-to-citizen engagement via web apps like SeeClickFix, chatbots like HelloVote; to how we engage in civic discourse with tools like online engagement platforms such as coUrbanize. The opportunities to apply new civic technologies for more efficient government services, and to use the proliferation of data for social impact are great.
In the end, it all comes down to the people in our communities. As we think about the connection between cities, community, and technology, it’s become increasingly clear — and in San Francisco, no doubt — that we must work to be more inclusive to help build bridges across class, race, gender, creed, ability, and age. With this in mind, the San Francisco Technology & Civic Engagement team has identified focus areas around accessibility, resiliency, and economic development. The thread that links these areas together is equity. Much of our work will be dedicated to these areas around inclusion and equity, to begin to build those access points now, and in the future.
Please reach out if you want to talk cities, data, civic engagement, or think through these challenges further. You can find me on Twitter @rikohi.