On May 19, The Bold Italic and General Assembly co-hosted a tech panel on “The Future of cities”, featuring:

–          Jake Levitas, Fellow of Innovation, SF Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, moderator of the panel.

–          Jack Madans, Government Partnerships Manager, Code for America

–          Andrea Funsten, Project Manager, Tumml

–          Ben Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager, SPUR

–          Jason Kelly Johnson, Founder and Design Partner, Future Cities Lab.

It gave us the opportunity to to hear about their recent projects concerning cities.

Code For America

Founded in 2009, Code For America (CFA) is a non-profit organization leveraging a generation of idealist programmers to tackle some of the toughest cities’ challenges. They are supported, among others, by Google, The Knight Foundation, Accela, and ESRI. Their fellowship program places developers, designers, and researchers within local governments for a one year residency. They also have 56 “Brigades” throughout the USA that gather local volunteers and government employees who connect for regular hack nights, discussions, and app development.

Jack Madans, Government Partnerships Manager at CFA, highlighted the impact of CFA through the example of the website Streetmix created during a hackathon. It allows anybody to become a city planner as the user can build its own street: add a bike a lane, shrink sidewalks, etc. Answering a question about the balance between using public data to take better decisions while respecting privacy, Jack Madans recalled they use open data: the data they capture is like a heartbeat of the city, it has nothing personal.

SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association)

SPUR is a member-supported nonprofit think tank that promotes good planning through advocacy, education and research. They are especially known for their magazine The Urbanist. Created in San Francisco in 1910, they developed a new office in San Jose two and a half years ago and plan to be in Oakland.

About SF’s affordability crisis, Ben Grant, Program Manager in Public Realm and Urban Design, made the case for a regional housing plan. You can’t solve the SF housing issue by staying in SF. Other cities from the Bay area should become more dense and walkable to attract people and widen the housing supply.

Future Cities Lab

Future Cities Lab is an experimental design studio, workshop and architectural think tank, at the crossroads between technology and public space.

Some of their projects aim to take digital information out of the phone. For example, the “Datagrove” in San Jose, renders invisible data and atmospheric phenomena into variable intensities of light and sound. The grove’s luminescent fibers respond to the proximity of visitors with quiet whispering sonic undulations. It aggregates local trending Twitter feeds from San Jose and then whispers these back through speakers and LCD displays woven into the Datagrove.



Fewer than half of entrepreneurs trying to solve urban issues are funded. From this starting point, this accelerator decided to focus on urban ventures that have a social impact. It got itself talked about with startups like Neighbor.ly, a toolkit to help people invest in the places and projects they care about; Sovi, a collaborative social pinboard for local and community events; or HandUp, a mobile donation platform for the homeless and other neighbors in need that was awarded at LAUNCH festival and at Challenge festival.

Learn more about the accelerator in our interview of Julie Lein, President of Tumml.