"We're the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It is how we make our living."
The president's State of the Union address last week laid out some exciting visions for a new generation of innovation, education and infrastructure meant to improve the quality of life for struggling Americans. When Barack Obama or any other Democrat says "investment," Republicans hear "spending" - and any hope of such improvement quickly dims.
But many cheered parts of Obama's speech such as this: "Within the next five years, we'll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn't about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age."
Surprisingly, Mesa is already plugged into the heart of this idea. Hardly a liberal bastion likely to fawn over the president's proposals, and rarely identified as a tech-savvy hipster enclave, the third-largest city in Arizona is pursuing a path that not only embraces the Internet and social media - it's counting on them to survive and prosper. Mayor Scott Smith held his annual address to community leaders on Thursday - his equivalent to a "State of the City" - and he laid out a daring (for Mesa) vision to get the city moving into the future using some of the popular technologies that have taken root in our lives.
Smith's address echoed parts of Obama's. "We have to make a conscious decision as to whether we're going to be in survival mode or whether we're going to be in growth mode," the mayor said. It's bold talk coming out of a recession that has forced the city to trim its workforce, cut spending and lose out on sales tax revenue. But those same challenges have already resulted in unexpected innovations at City Hall: Earlier this month, Tribune writer Garin Groff reported on efforts by the city to ditch the reams of paper that have traditionally accompanied proceedings in favor of digital formats. It not only saves paper and natural resources, but will result in more efficient and organized government.
Now, Smith wants residents to use their smart phones and computers to take an active part in planning transformative community projects. They can find the links to start this journey at www.mesaaz.gov/imesa. Only after the city receives ideas through these online channels will people be brought together in the physical world to put them into action. The only rule is that there are no constraints at first, just ideas. If something requires voter approval, that will come later - but the concepts are boundless.
If this sounds like an exercise in spinning wheels - well, then, you've obviously spent some time in a corporate setting. The mayor's plan - dubbed iMesa through its clear connection to Apple's iconic role in innovation - has its risks. But it's also forward-thinking and just crazy enough to work. And it's meant to unfold over generations, not minutes.
"You don't get anywhere without doing something bold," Smith said. "This can be as bold as the citizens of Mesa want it to be."
That's where the future lies: Literally in the hands of Mesa's residents, as they Tweet, share and collaborate faster than the speed of politics.