Editor’s note: Kate Garman is the KCMO innovation analyst but will be departing this week for a new opportunity in Seattle. She wrote the following piece reflecting on her time with the city.
I’ve had a desk at Kansas City Hall now for three years.
Starting as an intern, and later joining the staff as innovation analyst, it’s been an amazing time to be a part of Kansas City’s momentum. I often get asked, “What does it mean to work in innovation for a city?”
I’m still trying to fully understand it. But I can tell you to start, it means knowing the details. For example, I’ve learned how to get a taxi permit, how many street lights we have, and I know that the city owns cows by the airport to scare the local deer away from runways.
But I think it’s also looking at the immeasurable. Some of my favorite metrics include how many people are wearing non-sport team affiliated Kansas City t-shirts, how many more dogs are getting walked downtown and how many people show up for First Fridays.
I have an amazing job because I get to tell other cities and thought leaders how Kansas City is pushing the envelope. That KCMO was the first city to create a comprehensive Smart City in 2015. That we are a national leader in fighting for digital inclusion and getting the internet to everyone. That we have had one of the most successful streetcar implementations in the country.
Certainly, though, some of my personal highlights aren’t necessarily based around tech. They are based on people.
My favorite event is Urban Momentum, a way to get City Hall outside of City Hall. A particularly favorite Urban Momentum at a local brewery focused on the possibility of driverless cars in Kansas City. Another highlight is when City Council was going to vote on minimum wage, and Council Chambers on the 26th floor was crowded with people fighting for their economic future, ready to take a stand. There were so many people, in fact, I could hear everything from my office, a floor below. Finally, I’ll never forget watching Hillary Clinton’s concession speech on the 29th floor of City Hall with the Mayor’s Office. It was the quietest our office has ever stood.
Innovation means many things, and Kansas City has done a wonderful job embracing it. Kansas City can thank its incredible leadership for these strides. It is how innovation and data approached views to new ideas are possible.
But it also because of city staff who works tirelessly, like John Pajor, who runs KC Bizcare and makes sure any person in this city who wants a business license gets a helping hand. It’s because of people like Jim Ready, managing the Department of Regulated Industries, making sure your ridesharing experience is safe. And it’s because of people like Diane Binckley in the Department of City Planning, who diligently researches best practices so we get it right.
I’m very lucky to have worked at City Hall. I’ve had the opportunity to work on transportation projects, work with our state legislature on emerging issues, and tell everyone else how great my hometown is. My only disappointment is that, instead of naming the Smart City WiFi network in downtown after my cat, we went with KCFreePublicWifi. I still question that decision — but it’s fine.
With that said, keep this city moving forward, please. Get the streetcar extended. Let’s welcome people with a functioning airport. Let’s start thinking about streets as something not just for cars. And most of all, go vote in local elections. It is the best kind of innovation we have.
Until next time, Kansas City. I leave you with gratitude and pride.