Moving the needle when it comes to developing city infrastructure isn’t always easy. It’s a balancing act involving multiple stakeholders and competing interests, and innovation doesn’t always win.
However, my most recent guest reminds us that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Alon Marcovici is the Managing Director at CityAge, a global platform where leaders meet to build the future of our urban planet. We discussed strategies for driving innovation forward in today’s modern cities and how to adopt a new perspective on growth and development for the future.
Transform It Forward with Alon Marcovici: Shaping the future of America’s cities with macro trends in mind
Alon kicked off the episode by explaining a little more about the vision and mission behind CityAge.
“CityAge is a 10-year-old company that started with the idea that people are not putting enough attention on the massive trends and issues that are happening around our planet, that are impacting cities. Our purpose is to connect, engage, inform and mostly inspire leaders and decision makers across a variety of industries, government, private industry, the investment community and the creative and academic class. Philosophically, we believe in quality over quantity, being action-oriented, solution-focused and flat in terms of parity with the audience and panelists.”
At CityAge, the team is focused on finding tangible solutions to real problems, not just pie-in-the-sky ideas that won’t truly move the needle in a positive direction. Alon noted that currently, the team is big on focusing their efforts on the most pressing issues today, and ensuring that their content strategy reflects these top priorities.
Moving the needle in a positive direction
In order to effect real change, Alon and the team at CityAge take a forward-looking, collaborative approach to improving cities around the world. For example, it’s no secret that many cities in the U.S. are in need of major structural changes in areas like transportation or education, but the process of improving sectors like these can often be long, drawn-out and overly burdened with red tape.
In Alon’s view, giving these systems a makeover will require a completely new way of thinking about the world around us and a more collaborative, hands-on approach when it comes to the leaders and decision makers who are shaping the country. He cited Kimberly Williams, Chief Innovation Officer of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, as one such leader who is helping to drive forward change and growth through a flexible, adaptable mentality.
“Some of the things that they’re doing are incredible work in public private partnerships and collaborations, being able to test initiatives like adding wifi on their buses or on their trains in a much more rapid, fail fast, nimble mentality as opposed to doing it in a long and traditional drawn-out RFP process.”
Alon also mentioned the work of Reimagining America’s Schools, an organization that’s working to champion a new way forward for the education system. He believes that in order to usher in a new era of education in America, we’ll need to completely overhaul our approach and find new ways of designing, thinking about and engineering our schools.
“How can we expect to educate our kids in a different way when all their settings and where their schools are in the city and what the school actually provides is so stagnant? So the way we’re trying to handle it is by bringing some incredible minds like Reimagining America’s Schools, like Kim Williams, bringing them to our events, on our podcast, into our content, and sharing that and bringing the right people to the table so they can have real dialog about that, not just listen to a panel discussion.”
Stepping forward boldly to champion change
Championing real change in a system that’s often designed to reward complacency and discourage progress can be challenging. However, Alon and the team at CityAge believe that by setting lofty goals and proving that they’re achievable can go a long way in getting others on board with an inspiring vision for the future.
Tremendous progress is being made in cities everywhere, and it’s important that we shine the spotlight on the most innovative solutions that are being put into practice today. Similar to the story of the four-minute mile, if one city, company or individual can prove that enormous goals can indeed be achieved, it will lay the groundwork for others to follow suit.
“I think you just gotta be bold. I think it’s that simple and maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but I think when you put a big, hairy, audacious goal in front of people and show people how it can be done, how it’s been done, even on a small scale, they realize it. They have an opportunity that they may not have realized they had beforehand. And I think sometimes we do have to start small. We do have to do a bold initiative in a small setting.”
Taking a future-focused approach
In the future, Alon and his team are focused on continuing to forge strong relationships with innovative leaders by bringing people together for impactful conversations, whether in person or online.
They plan on diving deeper on their main focus areas of urban development through an environmentally strong, healthy city, building cities for all through universal design, decarbonization of cities and heavy industry, and developing a healthy food ecosystem.
“Success for us is where we can actually point to having brought the right people to the table, to discuss the right issues with the right leaders and thought leaders in the room. If we can point to a development that has happened as a result of a business relationship that has been nurtured at some of our events that have actually turned into a real entity, that’s success for us.”
My conversation with Alon helped to shed light on key strategies for fostering innovation for the future. Here are some of my key takeaways from our discussion:
- If we hope to usher in a new era of innovation for future generations, we’ll need to approach the world through a new lens. As Alon pointed out, we can’t expect to improve areas like transportation and education when the infrastructure they’re built upon has remained stagnant for decades. To adopt this new mindset, we’ll need to bring together some of the country’s best and brightest thinkers for some honest conversations about what really needs to change in society to create a better future.
- Having said that, we’ll also need to acknowledge that it can be difficult to innovate in a system that often rewards complacency. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Alon believes that to create real change, more people need to have the courage to be bold and set audacious goals while charting a realistic course to get there.
- Rome wasn’t built in a day. As we work towards building better and stronger cities, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective about the path to success. Growing a city is a marathon not a sprint, and every improvement will ultimately benefit us all.
- As the name of this show suggests, things are changing a mile a minute in almost every industry and sector. There’s never been a better time to take advantage of new opportunities and think outside the box to contribute to the greater good. As Alon noted, we need to showcase some of the incredible strides being made in cities around the world so we can inspire others to drive innovation forward.
- For CityAge, success means sparking connections that result in real change. Through their digital roundtable discussions and in-person events, the organization has facilitated key conversations on urban development, sustainability, the food ecosystem and more that contribute to tangible developments in the real world.
Listen to the full podcast episode here.
And if you missed previous episodes, catch up here.