Vision

Aaron Deacon

Managing Director adeacon@kcdigitaldrive.org

Aaron Deacon is the founder and managing director of KC Digital Drive, a nonprofit civic organization with a mission to make Kansas City a digital leader. He works with mayors, entrepreneurs and civic leaders in Kansas City and around the world to help build ecosystems that connect infrastructure, emerging technology and social impact. He combines a high-level strategic approach with boots-on-the-ground project implementation and management in smart cities, civic tech, digital inclusion, digital health, and education. He earned a master’s degree in social science from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Dallas.

The Challenge and the Opportunity

Why a Gigabit City Summit?

The population of colonial America at the time of the Revolutionary War was between 2 and 3 million people—roughly the size of metro Kansas City today. Outside of New York and Los Angeles, the rest of the top 100 US metro areas by population are in the range of a half million to less than 10 million people—six- and seven-figure populations. Those numbers are remarkably modest compared to the nine- and ten-figure populations that the world’s national governments are charged with managing and protecting.

It is hard to talk about the importance of cities these days without sounding trite or slipping into cliché. We’ve all heard that 70% of people will be living in cities by 2050, that cities draw the “creative class” and house “innovation hubs” that foster collision density and serendipitous connections. We lament the growing financial burden cities bear, while lauding local as the place where “things get done” and innovation is alive.

The dialogue around and exploration of these issues facing the city of today and the city of tomorrow is an important one. The invocation of the American revolution is not so much intended to recall conflict and tyranny, but the opportunity for fundamental definition of principles—of what a society believes, of what the people stand for, and of how they create the rules and institutions to realize a polis based on those beliefs.

Such is the opportunity for today’s cities, and it is called into stark relief by the digitization of infrastructure. Whether through fiber deployments to expand capacity for connectivity and data traffic or the application of sensors and real-time computing to the roads, buildings, pipes, and wires that enable modern life, cities (and the communities in between) are in the midst of a fundamental transformation. Unlike much of the consumer software revolution, these infrastructure projects deploy slowly and at great collective expense.  The magnitude of the investment and the long infrastructure life cycles create an opportunity and an imperative—the opportunity for fundamental redesign and improvement and the imperative that they be well-considered and executed.

Over the past several years, the conversation around smart cities has evolved to include and even prioritize the role of actual human beings in the smart city loop. To those new to that conversation or unfamiliar with the history of “smart cities,” it may come as a surprise that such an evolution was even necessary. The idea that technology projects need to focus on meeting the needs of actual people ought to be obvious of course, but the challenges in making that a reality are more complex than might be imagined at first blush. These are precisely the challenges that our first gigabit cities have found themselves faced with—not simply how we build new infrastructure and deploy new technology, but how do we build the systems to apply those assets in the right way.

While this is an issue of national import, it’s one that cities and communities, with population sizes that operate at a human scale, networking down to schools and neighborhoods and homes and individuals, are uniquely able to address. This is the challenge that the Gigabit City Summit is designed to help address.