(Photo: Cover of Startup City)


I recently attended a talk by Gabe Klein on his new book “Startup City: Inspiring Private & Pubic Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done and Having Fun”.

Technology and automation have led to new business models and allowed innovative solutions to emerge, which have changed consumption habits and behavior of citizens in the 21st century. This has put significant pressure on cities and urban systems and forced government officials to rethink regulations and how they operate public services with this new paradigm in mind.

Historically, American cities have been built around a car-centric culture and individual hyper-consumption and ownership. This led to urban flight and the rise of suburban living. Today, we notice re-urbanization and a generation wanting to live, work and play within a reasonable distance and more prone to a collaborative consumption model.

Exponential technological change, the creativity of entrepreneurs and agility of the private sector have led to new transportation services such as Uber, Lyft, Chariot to respond to different needs and desires of the population. But the government has not been sitting idle, cities also have launched bike share programs (Citi Bike share in New York City), repurposed public spaces (parklets in San Francisco), installed bike lanes and redesigned streets and city centers (Complete Streets model in Chicago). For Gabe Klein, the best model for designing future cities is to inspire public/private entrepreneurship and align incentives. Gabe Klein proposes to run government like a startup, empower experimentation and allow for failure.

Many cities have embraced this idea, including San Francisco (see my recent interview with San Francisco’s CIO Miguel Gamino Jr) and welcome the prospect of working with entrepreneurs and the private sector as well as infusing technological solutions into a city.

It is important to view the city as a system and not siloed departments and initiatives. Cities have the opportunity to completely rethink the way they are designed and lead overall urban projects. An emerging movement is TOD (Transit-Oriented Development). TOD is a type of community development that includes a mixture of housing, office, retail and/or other amenities integrated into a walkable neighborhood and located within a half-mile of quality public transportation.

Improving public transportation and reviving urban areas is a challenge many U.S. cities are taking on. Change is happening quickly and the promise of innovation for urban mobility and livability is exciting. The key is to redesign around people and listen to what they want instead of giving them what we think they need.

Gabe Klein is the former DOT director under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration in Chicago and former Director of the District DOT under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Before working in local government, Klein worked at a few startups, including Zipcar. In 2015, in addition to his other roles, Klein joined Fontinalis Partners as an SVP (Special Venture Partner) on their new fund. Klein continues to advise a number of technology/transportation startups including Bridj, where he provides leadership on strategy. He is on the board of NACTO and Streetsblog.