Downtown San Diego
Downtown San Diego from the north. Photo by Chris Stone

There is a case, a necessary case, that renewed community support and local leadership in our cities, San Diego in particular, can make a difference in America’s future by pursuing technical solutions to be a “smart city,” a “city of the future.”

Americans have lost patience with our federal government and in fact, thoughtful observers like former professor Benjamin Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled the World, has written, “The nation-state is failing us on the global scale.” But the nation-state isn’t going away. Not any time soon. That isn’t to say that the role of the nation-state isn’t changing. It is. It has.

Gridlock seems to permeate every legislative or executive proposal. It’s the GOP against the Democrats, conservatives versus liberals. It really doesn’t matter, does it? Nothing, well almost nothing, of importance gets done. Immigration. Health Care. Clean Energy. Global Warming. Housing. You name it. The problems fester and it’s no surprise people are frustrated, angry and have lost patience.

The strength of America’s economy as well as our political prowess in the world are inextricably linked to the success of our cities and their smart initiatives. Yet there is hope if we can change the lens in our camera to focus on the vital role of our cities, not cities in the usual sense but “region states” as the potential rise and the rebirth of the age-old concept of the “region-state” takes hold. The idea of a new powerful economic community never happened in the U.S., but now may be the time.

According to Bruce Katz, a founding director of the Metropolitan Economy Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, author of The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy, ” There is a fundamental disconnect between how we live and work in large portions all over America and how we govern…The mismatch between governments and the economy undermines the competitiveness of places by raising the costs of doing business, exacerbating strong development trends, squandering urban assets and deepening racial and class separation.”

When it comes to technology the opportunities are almost limitless. No wonder there is a worldwide race for broadband Internet, as the Internet now becomes as vital as waterways, railways, and highways in an earlier era. As we know, in the new economy — an economy in which creativity and innovation are the benchmarks of success, indeed survival — you need bandwidth, the broadband Internet that serves as the basis of wealth and well-being in the Age of Innovation.

In every study about economic development, broadband Internet services are mentioned prominently. Given the realignment of power in the world — from nations to cities to individuals — what the city does or does not do to build the century’s new infrastructure can determine their community’s success and survival, or its demise; and as such, will determine the nation’s success or failure.

Some more progressive cities are already working with other nearby cities or their county to do joint governmental planning and development, and provide not only police, fire, and safety services but land use, transportation, energy and water consumption, and other telecommunications systems as well.

Yes, the bandwidth in the ground is important; so too, is the bandwidth in people’s heads. And as we are beginning to understand — slowly — more politicians need to understand the power of technology, and that our goal is to create a new workforce that understands the importance of creativity and innovation, the key to our Nation’s — and our cities — success and survival.

Not that city councils or mayors are immune to criticism, but they represent the last great hope for renewal of America’s economic prowess. And more importantly, the technology is there to help cities reinvent themselves for a very new, global economy.

Most people already live in one jurisdiction, work in another, and play or dine in a third. They have no idea that the cost to them is enormous because of the duplication and waste of so many cities in the region. Moreover, they do not realize that the new creative economy demands consolidation to save money, and to reposition itself in the new global economy. It is cheaper, sure, but the real reasons are to stimulate economic prosperity. Technology allows cities to become more important than ever in our nation’s history as we enter headlong into a new age of creativity and innovation.

The hearse is at the back door of the nation we call America. Either we make the changes in our nation, in our cities like San Diego, to meet the challenges of a new economy, as we must, or the greatest experiment we know — democracy — fails.

John Eger is professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University. He founded of the Smart Community Project.