San Jose’s City Vision: Smartest City in US by 2020

According to Toronto Mayor John Tory, “more than half of the USA’s famous Unicorn companies (companies valued at over $1Billion) have been created by immigrants.”  At a recent City Age conference in San Francisco, Tory described his effort to replicate that success by mixing immigrants in Canada and a strong urban corridor that explicitly supported with educational institutions, educated immigrants and a culture that values entrepreneurship.  It is the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor in Canada.  The corridor he hopes to emulate is the USA’s Silicon Valley, stretching from San Francisco to San Jose.

On the southern end of this world famous corridor, San Jose’s Mayor Sam Liccardo is intent on keeping the economy growing by “builiding a deliberate and focused strategy will also allow us to stretch limited public dollars to be more cost-effective and productive. “  One of his key decisions was to hire Shareen Santosham as the City’s Chief Innovation Officer.  She will develop and implement the City’s new innovation master plan.  “Few cities in the world have actually accomplished this sort of unified digital strategy for the city,” Santosham said.  San Jose is expected to grow 40% by 2040.  Half the city’s growth comes from entrepreneurship.

The digital strategy comes in the following  components:

Safe City

Leverage technology to make San José the safest big city in America.

  • Broaden use of data analytics to improve safety, including better targeting code enforcement, identifying homes with the highest fire risk for preventative measures such as smoke alarm checks, and using geo-tagged data on graffiti complaints and truancy rates to inform “hot spot” crime prediction and prevention.
  • Reduce traffic accidents and fatalities with connected infrastructure, data analytics, and machine learning that can that can optimize traffic systems and identify high-accident intersections. Target prevention efforts, such as by using behavioral insights to reduce speeding along corridors with high rates of injury crashes.
  • Increase transparency by providing datasets, data visualizations and utilizing predictive modeling of crime and policing. For example, pursue increased accessibility and visualizations of complaint, gang crime, auto theft, blight and property crime data.

Inclusive City

Ensure all residents, businesses, and organizations can participate in and benefit from the prosperity and culture of innovation in Silicon Valley.

  • Broaden access to basic digital infrastructure to all residents, especially our youth, through enabling free or low cost, high-speed, 1 gigabit or faster broadband service in several low-income communities, and increasing access to hardware, including tablets and laptops, for low-income students.
  • Build digital skills of our residents through investing in Opportunity Youth and in professional training programs to create a pathway into high tech jobs in Silicon Valley. Expand our libraries’ roles as digital-skills training centers, with continued growth of coding camps, entrepreneurship training, maker spaces, and online learning centers.
  • Better utilize digital tools to help to address homelessness and access to affordable housing in San José, such as creating an online rental registry with Housing and Code Enforcement officials to better protect tenants from retaliatory evictions, substandard housing and rent control violations. Work with non-profit partners to use mobile technology to better target scarce resources for homeless assistance.
  • Support economic development in historically struggling business districts by using data tools to demonstrate the business case for investing in San José, such as illustrating the purchasing power of neighborhoods foot traffic by location.

User Friendly City

Create digital platforms to improve transparency, empower residents to actively engage in the governance of their city, and make the City more responsive to the the complex and growing demands of our community.

  • Build a digital “neighborhood dashboard” that allows residents to seamlessly access information, file report, and collectively solve issues in their own neighborhood. A robust platform would enable residents to access information about nearby development projects easily report broken streetlights and potholes, learn about local festivals, retail businesses and new construction, as well as communicate with other neighbors interested in working together to tackle local challenges.
  • Expand civic engagement through initiatives like participatory budgeting and zero-based budgeting,and mobile and online applications, to expand the role of taxpayers influencing City spending decisions.
  • Utilize open data and visualization to inform public dialog, policy-making, and management decisions. Ensure that all non-private city data is open by default in easily usable and understandable formats, and aim to integrate San José datasets with those of other relevant agencies, such as school districts, the County of Santa Clara, the Valley Transportation Authority, and the U.S. Census.
  • Modernize antiquated City technology systems to reduce costs, improve efficiency, and empower employees to improve service, including substantial upgrades of finance, customer response management, and development services platforms.
  • Digitize, automate, and integrate city services to be “user-friendly,” such as enabling online submission of all city forms and permit applications, and electronic payment for city fees.Empower City workers through increasing use of tablets and mobile devices to collect data to streamline inspections and other processes

Sustainable City

Utilize technology to address energy, water, and climate challenges to enable sustainable growth.

  • Enable deployment of energy and water management technology in buildings, and promote real-time data analytics to to help residents and businesses conserve energy and water.
  • Rapidly deploy sensor technology on city streets and infrastructure and explore on-demand mobility apps to reduce GHG emissions.
  • Create a “race to the top” across all City agencies and local businesses to improve energy and water efficiency, using data to benchmark progress, and analytics to identify best practices.

Demonstration City

Reimagine the City as a laboratory and platform for the most impactful, transformative technologies that will shape how we live and work in the future.

  • Fully develop the city’s transportation innovation zone to test new products and services, such as autonomous vehicles, that will dramatically shape transportation in the future and mitigate traffic congestion.
  • Build an “Internet of Things” platform employing transit vehicles and infrastructure by using smart sensor technologies to improve safety, mobility, and optimize our transit system.
  • Create pathways for start-ups and innovators to easily access opportunities to pilot and test new products and services with the City, such as by hosting “demo days” to highlight the most innovative “smart city” companies in Silicon Valley, and sponsoring public competitions to encourage crowdsourcing of innovative solutions to civic challenges.

How we’ll do it

We need to empower our workforce to unleash their creativity, recruit top talent from the technology sector, provide the right incentives and oversight to ensure progress, and partner with the private sector, foundations, local civic entrepreneurs, and universities to accelerate impact. We also need to take appropriate risks and provide room for experimentation and failure as we adopt new ways of working.

  1. Foster a performance-driven, transparent organization focused on continuous improvement: Develop seamlessly updated performance dashboards for every department that will be published online to the public and updated quarterly in conjunction with the City Auditors Office, and used for managing continuous improvement.
  2. Build leadership and capabilities throughout the organization: Create an Office of Innovation & Digital Strategy in the City Manager’s Office to direct and drive results, and strategically invest in staffing—or reorganize existing staff– in key departments to expand capacity for implementation. This will require intentional investment in people—both technical and project management training—and in technology infrastructure.
  3. Provide oversight and policy guidance: Create accountability through a dedicated City Council Committee on Smart City and Continuous Improvement to track progress against the goals laid out in this vision document and in an approved work plans. Leverage the Chief Innovation Officer in the Mayor’s Office to help guide these efforts.
  4. Make it easier to partner with the City: We’ve created an Office of Strategic Partnerships in the Mayor’s Office to provide a single point-of-contact for philanthropic and private sector organizations, to improve our ability to secure external expertise and resources to drive results. Streamline procurement processes to more easily work with the city on initiatives laid out in this document.

Our Values

  • Integrate digital tools into the daily work of the City to promote a transparent, data-drive culture of innovation and continuous improvement.
  • Relentlessly focus on customer service, by integrating user-centric design principles into service delivery and technology platforms across City Hall.
  • Protect individual privacy of our residents and provide secure IT platforms.
  • Favor technology solutions that are accessible to all residents and help to level the playing field for underserved populations.
  • Effectively partner with the private sector, universities, foundations and other organizations to accelerate impact.
  • Embrace calculated risks, pilot new initiatives and iterate to learn from failure before scaling.
  • Amplify the expertise of the City’s own workforce by cultivating the best ideas within City Hall and throughout our community to leverage technology and data to improve services.
  • Allocate resources to initiatives based on Council’s defined priorities, impact to the community and return on investment to the City.


Note:  The next City Age conference is in Rochester, New York.  Guest speakers include Lovely Warren, Mayor of Rochester;  Antoine van Agtmael, author, The Smartest Places on Earth and John Macomber, faculty, Harvard Business School, who teaches “Building Cities”.

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