Filner's Incubator Lives On
The effort – now dubbed the Civic Innovation Lab – will no longer report directly to the mayor’s office or be housed on the fourth floor of City Hall.
Former Mayor Bob Filner’s formal push to spur civic innovation endures despite the scandal that ended his mayoral tenure.
Interim mayor Todd Gloria opted to allow the Civic and Urban Initiatives program Filner advocated to continue with a new name and a few tweaks.
The effort – now dubbed the Civic Innovation Lab – will no longer report directly to the mayor’s office or be housed on the fourth floor of City Hall, which Filner once used as a metaphor for the city’s unfulfilled planning vision.
Instead, it’ll be supervised by Planning Director Bill Fulton, and six soon-to-be hired staffers will work somewhere outside the city’s civic complex, a change Gloria and others also suggested for symbolic reasons.
“The entire city should be an innovation city,” Fulton said. “We shouldn’t confine our efforts to one floor in City Hall.”
In coming weeks, Fulton and two UC San Diego professors serving as consultants on the project will rifle through the roughly 140 job applications that flowed in after the city posted job openings late last month. Fulton said he hopes to begin interviews soon and select two managers and four other staffers who will lead the effort.
What they’ll do once they’re hired is yet to be determined but Fulton and professors Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman acknowledge the program will need to quickly show it can turn ideas into tangible results in the form of specific projects that impact residents.
“For this thing to have both funding and value to everyone in the entire city and the entire community, we do have to prove its value in the short term to be able to sustain it in the long term,” Fulton said.
Last month, Cruz and Forman described their hope to connect City Hall and communities with innovative ideas.
At the time, they cited projects such as “fab labs,” which provide entrepreneurs access to tools and workspace, and urban spaces that promote education and serve as community-gathering spots. They also talked about pushing for a similar ideas incubator in Tijuana so they can coordinate efforts on both sides of the border.
Fulton wants to start with smaller moves first. For example, he said, the city might experiment with new ways to approach urban gardening or street striping, or look at ways to add parklets in more San Diego neighborhoods.
“In general, (these are) little experimental things, which could make a big difference in the way neighborhoods look and feel and operate,” Fulton said.
Fulton, Cruz and Forman have also talked to the San Diego Foundation about partnering to bring in out-of-town experts to speak about inventive government policies and how they’ve worked to implement them.
Another item at the top of the trio’s to-do list is finding grants to potentially reduce the city’s investment in the project and allow it to work on projects the city can’t pay for on its own.
Cruz and Forman are already working on this.
With their leadership, UC San Diego recently received a $150,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to survey San Diego and Tijuana residents. The goal is to learn more about both groups’ shared goals and spotlight areas where cross-border collaboration could easily be bolstered.
What they learn could help drive some of the innovation lab’s future projects. Cruz hopes the survey results will help the two cities come to more formal agreements.
“The opportunity here is very simple: We continue to be fragmented across sectors and this type of convening that these documents produce (will) really begin to synergize the different constituencies,” he said.
As the program gets going, Cruz and Forman say they hope to seek other grants and projects that allow the city program to translate residents’ ideas into concrete plans that can be implemented.
“This isn’t just about talking,” Forman said. “It’s about a process leading to action.”
Fulton emphasized that the program will be about residents’ – and sometimes, even city employees’ – ideas rather than what the folks leading the innovation lab think up.
“This is really not intended to be a place where we dream up ideas and test them out,” Fulton said. “It is a way for people in the community to come up with ideas that they can feed us.”