City Shapers

Source: Tribeza | Anne Bruno, MP Mueller & Brittani Sonnenberg

There's a tangled glory to English gardens. The spilling lavender, shocks of rosemary and sprawling peonies seem to revel in their unattendedness. But behind the scenes is a patient, nurturing gardener, giving each plant room to grow, devoting hours each day in the dirt to coax life, and joy, out of stubborn ground.

Austin, while decidedly not British, has something of the English garden in its deepest nature. From a distance, the city’s thriving creative culture, growing nonprofit and philanthropic presence, and innovative approaches to everything from healthcare to affordable housing looks like it bloomed on its own. But if you take a closer look, you’ll glimpse Austin’s quiet, behind-the-scenes gardeners — its city shapers — whose aims are not to create a sterile topiary but an irrepressible burst of colors. They’re the ones rising at dawn, working through the night and allowing themselves to stay tender and open to the garden’s evolving needs. They learned, long ago, that devoting themselves to the garden, tending to community, was to devote themselves to their own growth, too.

We’re lucky enough to spend our days in the garden. But learning their stories, and what first urged them to dig, and plant some seeds, might inspire you to pick up a shovel yourself, and discover what you were put here to plant.

CHELSEA COLLIER

SMART CITIES AMBASSADOR

What is a smart city? Like whispers in an art gallery alcove, we’ve heard the term wafting about. But not until our conversation with Chelsea Collier, did we feel like we could talk smart cities at a cocktail party without slurring words — not from inebriation but to keep others from guessing our spitballing on the topic might be more spit than ball. 

Collier has a background and love of futuristic tech, policy, citizen engagement and social impact. She found and declared the smart cities cause after spending time in China this past fall as an Eisenhower Fellow, immersed in the topic. It’s all about how technology can be applied to a city to ultimately make it more efficient and connected for citizens and residents. At its heart, smart cities focus on gathering and sharing data in real time to yield better services, like sensors, beacons and cameras on streets to improve timing of traffic signals. And there’s the BigBelly project in development, solar powered trash bins with built-in sensors that let municipalities know when trash truly needs to be collected. This will save valuable resources and be gentler on our roads and environment. 

Composed and speaking in perfect, illuminating and yet, unrehearsed sentences, Collier is the penultimate ambassador for a movement without an established home court. She is involved in a conference called Smart Cities Connect, and writes a blog dedicated to the topic, Digi.City. The blog showcases leaders in the space and a great resource for bringing people together for the cause. 

As it’s still nascent, there is no central government or private sector group “in charge” yet. But according to Collier, both the public and private sectors are working furiously together on this initiative. “The motivation is to become very efficient with resources,” Collier explained. “Cities are being asked to do more with fewer resources.” But it takes great resources to get there. Like putting policies and investment in place to build bigger, fatter, faster pipes (think 5G), to transmit all the data needed to make these applications run. “There are currently an average of eight connected devices for every one person,” Collier shared. “By 2025 there will be 50 billion connected devices in the world. The beautiful part is that technology can implement solutions around really big challenges. But, you can’t just flip a switch and overnight you have a smart city… it takes a really intentional strategy.” 

And Collier will likely be in the smart city center, helping that strategy gel. “At the end of the day, I love creating platforms that bring together passionate, committed people who want to change the world.

Read more here