The City Hall in Mexico’s capital now has its own think tank, and its organizers are looking for creative solutions to urban problems.
The think tank (called Laboratorio para la Ciudad) brings together artists, architects, economists, scientists and researchers to think about how to make urban living better. Mexico City, after all, is the eighth largest urban economy in the world.
Mancera was effusive about the program, singling out a “Hackathon” that he said would occur in November.
“What does this mean? It means that we’ll convoke the citizenry, all the bright minds of men and women in the city, so that they can develop apps in benefit of the city,” Mancera said.
One of those in attendance was Nigel Jacob, a computer scientist who is a board member of Code for America, a group that promotes civic innovation. He also runs the Office of New Urban Mechanics at Boston City Hall.
“We truly believe that Mexico City has the capability … to become a world leader in development of the future city, the so-called city 2.0,” he said.
The ceremony ended and Mancera took questions. Journalists asked about very concrete issues such as traffic problems, public housing, crime in the Zona Rosa district – but nothing about the think tank.
I approached Jacob and said it sounded like the think tank would ponder ethereal and theoretical issues. I asked for concrete examples of how the laboratory could come up with ways to make the city more livable. He noted that cities often have multiple programs that only a few residents take advantage of.
“So you can imaging maybe treating bus services, like bus kiosks, here as informational consoles. So there’s hyper-local content about social programs or educational opportunities in that area so that people can see them,” he said.
He also talked about the way city authorities interact with citizens, and even how they respond to signs encouraging civic behavior.
“When people see garbage, do they report it? When they see potholes, do they report it?” he asked. The response “doesn’t skew to socio-economics necessarily.” It can skew to language and also directing messages not to the greater community – Mexico City – but perhaps to the immediate neighborhood. So instead of signs saying "Keep Boston Clean," signs worked better if they mentioned the specific neighborhood.
“We found a huge difference in how people respond to these things,” Jacob said.