The world is changing exponentially. Technology has altered the way we acquire information, how we share it, and what we do after we get it. It has changed how we conduct business in untold ways, and any business that fails to evolve is in danger of not just falling behind but closing its doors. The same holds true for cities. A city that fails to keep pace with expanding technology can lose contact with those it serves, ultimately failing to fulfill its mission.
There are countless ways in which the City of Carlsbad conducts business differently from 20, 10, even five years ago. Carlsbad has strived to be a leader in innovative solutions to civic problems, and continues its commitment to that goal.
Carlsbad recently hired its first ever chief innovation officer, David Graham, who most recently served as the City of San Diego’s deputy chief operating officer for smart and sustainable communities. Graham has extensive experience in implementing smart city solutions, helping create San Diego’s all-electric car fleet – a first for North America – and streamlining an open-data permitting platform.
Few cities have a chief innovation officer, and Graham said that Carlsbad is unique among cities its size, making it an ideal testing ground for civic innovation and solutions.
“You have an international tourist destination in LEGOLAND, the largest desal plant on the western side of the continent, global headquarters of companies like Viasat, seven miles of beaches, and you have a city with the second highest TOT (transient occupancy tax) in the entire region,” Graham said.
Combine those with good schools, a regional airport and forward-thinking industries, and Carlsbad has a lot to offer. But there are two sides to every coin; with every advantage comes an accompanying challenge.
“As we approach buildout, the challenges of more people and less space become more palpable,” Graham observed. And one way to navigate such rocky waters is by employing technology to smooth the way.
“As I think about our position in the region and in the country, Carlsbad really has an opportunity to demonstrate why cities of 100,000 to 300,000 or even 500,000 people can be more nimble, agile and more connected to their residents in solving problems,” Graham said. “The key is using data to drive decision making. That is where to find the efficiencies, the improvements, the insights that will allow us to innovate – by creating a data platform that helps us understand processes and what our residents want and need, and finding solutions to those issues.”
Graham’s aim is to involve local businesses in helping solve problems that are typically seen as government problems. The value is tapping into an extremely knowledgeable ready-made talent pool. Partnering with local businesses has the collateral benefit of keeping the business community engaged in civic affairs.
“Getting people and businesses to be a part of co-creating the city is a key part of deriving the insights the city can use to devise innovative solutions,” Graham said. “The more that people feel that their role is not just a seat at the table but a responsibility to the city that they’re in, the more likely we’ll be better able to find solutions that plague all of us.”
Graham hopes that in the future the city and its business community maintain a connection, and that local businesses will view the city as a laboratory for new ways to solve problems.
“I believe Carlsbad can be a sandbox for testing and trying new and different things and new and different ways of addressing civic challenges,” he said.
Sometimes keeping Carlsbad on the cutting edge of innovation is less complicated than it sounds. Graham jokes that he often hears people say they’d like to be the best city, or the smartest city, or the most connected city possible.
“How about just a more convenient city?” Graham responds. “Let’s shoot for that bar.”