Civic Innovation Labs: “We’re the Guys Who Want to Make Your Neighborhood Fun”

Originally posted at Voice of San Diego.
By Andrew Keatts.

The city of San Diego’s neighborhood fixers are up and running.

Former Mayor Bob Filner’s administration struggled to clearly articulate its idea for a Civic Innovation Lab, a small group working between departments to improve quality of life in the city. Call it City Lab for short.

It went through some name changes and saw its budget scaled back, but it’s now under the oversight of Planning Director Bill Fulton, has hired staff and is up and running.

So, what does it do?

“We’re the guys who want to make your neighborhood fun and interesting,” said Howard Blackson, an urban planner hired to be the organization’s strategist.

That’s a simple concept, easier to understand than anything said on the lab’s behalf during the budgeting cycle.

“We want to be proponents and advocates for nonprofits and community groups, to champion good civic projects and make them happen,” said Blackson. “We also want to be the research and development arm for all of San Diego to learn from. We’re creating how-to manuals.”

City Lab’s starting with small, simple concepts that can be replicated throughout the city.

It’ll be focused on turning things like alleys and vacant lots into public places and linking parklets with bike-related infrastructure. It’ll also host urban-minded community events, like a lecture series.

In addition to the two consultants who helped conceive the project, the group now has four strategists from different fields: an architect, an urban designer, a landscape designer and a data specialist.

One of the consultants, Teddy Cruz, gave a recent TED Talk on the ability of architectural innovation to straddle borders and influence cities, indicating another area to which City Labs could eventually look.

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