It’s time to start doing things differently in Norfolk. It’s time to pull our leadership out of its comfort zone. It’s time to innovate, Norfolk.
I am Andria McClellan, and I want to be Norfolk’s Innovation Evangelist on Norfolk City Council.
There’s been a certain way of doing things in Norfolk, and it’s worked – to uphold the status quo.
To continue to move forward, we have to set a new tone on Council, and throughout the city.
Innovation does not happen in silos; Norfolk needs collaborative leaders with new ideas to persisting problems. We need to encourage connections from throughout the city – and dare I say it – the region. What private sector solutions can be used to solve public sector problems? What are our sister cities doing well and how can we learn from their successes? What if we worked together to solve some of our biggest problems?
Those ‘new ideas’ I mentioned? Innovation doesn’t result from ideas alone – but also being willing to try the ideas out, quickly, rather than planning for years or decades before anything can be implemented. We cannot be afraid to fail. Let’s pilot ideas and accept that they may not be perfect the first time, but that it’s better to get things started and learn in iterations rather than take countless years to get something just so. That’s what we’ve done with the Better Block process in Norfolk, which has resulted in, among other things, the thriving NEON Arts District.
That’s how we set the tone for becoming an innovation hub – but what innovative ideas do we need to bring to the table in Norfolk?
Norfolk is a great city, but we have some problems that have persisted for years: our struggling schools; a lack of transparency in government that has resulted in a feeling of disengagement among Norfolk citizens; high violent crime rates; and lagging technology and infrastructure that hinders our ability to attract bright minds and new businesses.
Status quo solutions aren’t solving these problems – and they aren’t going to.
Let’s look at what should be the shining jewel of our city: Norfolk Public Schools. Norfolk Public Schools has its share of headline-grabbing challenges, and fixing them requires a community-wide effort. But there are ways we can leverage resources already available in our community to improve NPS. As an active community volunteer and a mother with kids in our public schools, I see lots of opportunities to continue to expand and engage others to provide their time and talents in our classrooms and with our students after school and during the summer months. Norfolk’s got a lot of empty-nesters and retirees; let’s create a Senior Corp of volunteers who are trained and deployed to help throughout our schools. And, where we don’t have the teaching staff available, let’s use Virtual Virginia (which is run by our own WHRO!) to supplement what classes we can’t offer NPS students currently with their great online suite of classes, which are fully accredited by the Virginia State Department of Education. “Intro to Game Development & Design” sounds pretty interesting to me!
Problems with our schools aren’t limited to the classroom, either – especially when it comes to utilizing technology. Why is it that I can see where my Uber car or taxicab is on my smart phone, but I can’t see where my child’s school bus is? The great folks at Code for America have created a real-time “Bus Finder” app for HRT buses, and I’ve hooked them up with Norfolk Public Schools to do the same. We’re not there yet; NPS buses don’t have GPS, but I will focus on getting this funded on Council. It’s an issue of safety for the 19,000 students (and their parents!) that NPS buses transport, and it will likely result in better efficiencies at the school and in the transportation department.
And, while I’m on the topic of safety, I’ll take a moment to give props to the Norfolk Police Department. Did you know that you can get a visual map of Norfolk crime reports online? You can also sign up for automated email alerts via the “CyberWatch” link on this site. What about an app for that? I did a little digging, and you can get the CrimeMapping app that comes from the same company providing the CrimeView information online. The city doesn’t publicize this technology, and nowhere I could find do we have a link for the app. That’s a shame. This can be a very useful tool, and certainly easier and more timely than looking for the crime report in the Sunday newspaper or waiting until your monthly civic league.
The city not publicizing CrimeView technology shouldn’t be a surprise – transparency and access to our city leadership has shown itself to be extremely problematic. As citizens, we’ve been experiencing this for years – and progress has been slow. Kudos to the engaged citizenry who pushed for the informal City Council work sessions to be recorded. However, we need to televise and record the entirety of our Norfolk City Council public sessions. Currently, the cameras cut off after the agenda items, so there’s no record of the citizens concerns presented during new business (or the Council’s response).
To add insult to injury, there’s no easy way to look up a specific vote other than going through every PDF of the minutes from past meetings. Perhaps, using Open Data, one of Norfolk’s bright entrepreneurs can come up with a way to search past votes, voting records, etc. as the City of Seattle does? Maybe we can attract these minds to work for the city. But, to do so, per the Metropolitan Revolution, we need to “reward and leverage the distinct rather than celebrating the uniform.” On council, I want to create an Innovation Council among city staff, which accepts nominations and highlights monthly 1-2 innovative ideas that city employees are implementing – and hopefully one of the first will be a solution for an accessible way to publish the votes of city leaders.
And, for the sake of 21st century access, I challenge every Councilperson to maintain an active councilperson website and social media presence to communicate with their constituents; that’s not innovative, but it is informative and necessary.
Advancement through innovation cannot happen without considering perspectives outside of the familiar. With respect to this, I want to learn not only from the successes (and failures) of our sister cities, but also those of emerging cities across the country: Portland, Austin, Denver, San Francisco. In fact, let’s take a page from this incredibly innovative program in San Francisco. STIR is a voluntary, sixteen-week collaboration that brings together the private sector and City departments to explore innovative solutions to civic challenges that can lower costs, increase revenue, and enhance productivity.
I’m hitting on a few of the key issues that I’m sure can be addressed through a combination of collaborative, innovative leadership and an engaged community. That being said, a council that listens to the ideas of its constituents, its business owners, its teachers and its creative minds is essential to progress. I challenge you to think differently, think creatively and advocate for positive, effective change. I am. And, that’s why I’m running for Norfolk City Council. I hope to have your support on May 3rd so we can work together in the future to make our city a better place to live, work and raise a family.