Seattle forms innovation council to boost citywide tech solutions
- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the formation of the city's first Innovation Advisory Council (IAC) to address the city's most urgent challenges — such as unaffordability and homelessness — that largely have been brought on by rapid growth.
- The IAC will advise on improving city operations with data and technology. Private sector entities will have representatives on the council, including tech giants like Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft, Tableau and Zillow.
- Participating businesses across the city will commit to contributing solutions like software, data analytics and applications. The IAC will prioritize participation of underrepresented businesses and community members.
Many cities on the West Coast currently find themselves in an affordability crisis that continues to grow and exacerbate economic divides, which ultimately contributes to greater homelessness. Seattle is considered one of the epicenters of the problem because of the city's overall tech boom, although behemoth Amazon tends to take the lion's share of the heat for the phenomenon.
West Coast cities increasingly recognize the affordability issue and are working toward solutions including head taxes and creative affordable housing solutions. But the tech companies that helped cause the problem by offering employees large salaries that vastly outpace most other business sectors have been criticized for inadequately contributing to solutions. They've taken heat for not just failing to solve the problem, but even opposing measures to reduce the problem, such as Seattle's head tax that would have funded homelessness mitigation programs. The measure passed but was repealed just four weeks later after the city encountered significant opposition.
However, the IAC could send the public-private relationship in a more productive direction.
"Working together, we have to seize the opportunity to address our shared challenges in new and innovative ways. Seattle and the surrounding Puget Sound region have the most innovative companies, right here in our own backyard. Bringing them together to address our pressing affordability crises will help us find and implement long-lasting, positive change that will help to improve our city," Durkan said in a statement.
The IAC is a good idea in theory, but a lot of unknowns that have the potential to trip up its effectiveness. The city was rather vague about details such as how exactly the companies would contribute. It's unclear if the businesses primarily will contribute funds or employee hours toward tech solutions. But if launched thoughtfully and strategically, the IAC has the potential to produce solutions that could ease the city's cost-of-living and homelessness spikes.
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