Driven – Mobility Moments: Aniela Kuzon, Ford City:One Challenge

Along with a $740 million investment to restore the Michigan Central Station, Ford Motor Company is launching the City:One Michigan Central Station Challenge to spark mobility solutions here in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. In fact, Ford has brought the City:One Challenge to several cities across North America. Earlier this summer we caught up with Aniela Kuzon, the founder and global lead of Ford City:One Innovation. She shared with us how this program works to address community-identified mobility challenges and fuel pilot programs for positive change.

Hello and welcome to Driven’s Mobility Moments podcast, where we talk with the people building the mobility ecosystem in the Detroit region. I’m your host, Claire Charlton.

Aniela, welcome to Driven’s Mobility Moments podcast. I’m so glad that you could join me today.

Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

So today we are going to talk about the City:One Challenge and we’re going to talk a little bit about what’s happening also here in Detroit with regard to the Ford City:One Innovation. Can you describe for me the City:One Challenge and give us maybe some history about the innovation itself?

Sure. So City:One Innovation is a Ford Mobility initiative to transform cities by solving mobility problems one person at a time. We launched this initiative because when you think about how mobility is changing, especially when you think about the introduction of self-driving cars, of scooters, of new data and map-enabled, phone-enabled services, it can be pretty daunting to think about how will all of these pieces actually fit together. And so the City:One framework zooms down to one person, one solution, one street at a time to really identify areas where we can act now and also create the foundation for transformational change.

We launched our flagship program, the City:One Challenge, last year in partnership with Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh, and Miami. And the program is an innovation competition that invites residents to share their transportation experiences, what’s working, what’s not working. And then after that deep listening and really honing in on where innovation can have the most impact on real peoples’ needs, we issue a call to action for entrepreneurs to propose ideas to address them. And at the end of each program, we offer pilot funding to the winning ideas. And we’re so excited to bring the program to the Michigan Central Station development area where the challenge will represent $250,000 to bring these ideas to life.

Before we talk about the Michigan Central Station, can you share with us what perhaps is going on in Grand Rapids and Pittsburgh and Miami? Are there any updates?

Yeah, so we’ve run the program now in seven cities. So we looked at Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh and Miami last year, really around the question of how can we make transportation more seamless and accessible for residents, workers and visitors in those cities. In each of those cases, what we were really able to do is to listen and elevate voices that are not always part of the mobility conversation today. Whether that’s a service worker who is employed at a hotel in Miami who is getting to work off shift, maybe has trouble when the buses aren’t coming as consistently or as often as is needed to really kind of represent a reliable transportation option, or a parent who is thinking about how can I really pick up my kid in a way that is not only convenient but it doesn’t represent me double parking in front of a school and contributing to traffic.

What we did then is actually look and see how can we use innovation and technology to address these needs. And we’re launching pilots in all of the cities, six in total. In Miami, we’re looking at a pilot with about eight school districts to look at how we can work with PickMyKid, which is a mobile app and school pickup/drop-off system that really allows the streamlining of bringing children out and making sure that first they get in the right car, but also that the timing of it is such that parents aren’t waiting outside for 10 or 15 minutes while that process is being facilitated. And not only does that improve, again, the individual parent’s experience, but it turns out that school pickup/drop-off actually represents about five percent of congestion in Miami. So if you can alleviate it, it really has lasting benefits for everyone in the area.

So that’s just one example of the kind of pilot that comes from first listening, really understanding how our residents and communities are experiencing transportation today, translating those into specific opportunities that are tangible and addressable, then inviting the innovation ecosystem to really respond and supporting those ideas with financial funding.

Then this year, in addition to Detroit, we’re also looking at Indianapolis, Austin, and Mexico City with topics ranging from how do we support trips both within neighborhoods to amenities like grocery stores and pharmacies as well as outside of neighborhoods to jobs, women’s safety and comfort while traveling, access to health, or right now we’re in the process of collecting those stories and translating them into a series of calls to action that will launch around the same time as the Michigan Central Station Challenge, late August, early September.

Awesome. So I love how you’re really focusing on the basic needs that people have to get around in their everyday lives.

Yeah, it’s really interesting how humbling it can be. I’m a Detroit resident myself. I’ve lived in this city for almost seven years and we actually launched a pilot challenge in 2015-16 that was the precursor to this program. And I remember we went into four neighborhoods across Detroit and really, again, kind of elevated residents as panelists and listened to the way that they were moving around the city and how they were experiencing transportation. And I remember having this experience where I realized, “Wow, even though I’ve lived here a few years, this high school student who lives in the Osborn neighborhood or near HOPE Village has a completely different experience than I do.” And now I understand much more deeply kind of where we can apply these solutions to help everyone. What’s been really empowering and really exciting is to see that that’s not just in Detroit, that’s actually a process in a way of co-creating with communities that we can apply across cities all over North America.

Awesome. Okay. So let’s talk about the Michigan Central Station portion of this innovation. How are members of the public, especially those who live right in that neighborhood, given the opportunity to engage in decision making here?

Yeah, so the first way that we want to engage community members, whether they’re residents, workers, visitors, is really in our explore phase to make sure that we are listening and we’re getting the problem statements right. So to that end, we have an online forum where people can contribute their experiences, how they’re moving around today, where they’re going to, what’s working, what’s not working. And then we also host community working sessions where we invite members of the community with a focus on people who might not feel as comfortable participating in an online forum, even just as a result of digital literacy or convenience. We facilitate a conversation, again, around how are they moving today, where are they going to, what’s working, what’s not. And then what our team will do is we’ll actually take all of that input and we’ll synthesize it into a report that will form the basis of the proposed phase, the call to action phase, that will open later this year and form the types of solutions that we are actually looking to.

So I think it’s really been great to first kind of have these conversations with community members already. There’s still some time to do so. And then once we do synthesize all of that learning and put out the actual kind of exciting part, the competition part, anyone is welcome to submit with their idea. You don’t need to live in the area, you don’t need to live in Detroit. It’s a global competition. We really want to make sure that we’re getting the best ideas that can have the most short term impact here and there will be additional opportunities throughout the program for residents, workers, visitors to give feedback on those ideas. Then in particular, once we select 12 finalists, they’ll receive $2,500 to take their idea and develop it into a pilot proposal. The goal will be to use that funding as well as support from Ford to really make sure that those pilots are informed and grounded in the needs of the local community and will provide opportunities, again, throughout for that conversation to take place and for community members to really be able to not only shape the decision making, but also to shape the ideas themselves so that they resonate most with the people who are here and really are addressing local needs.

So if I understand correctly, this initiative is in conjunction with PlanetM and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Am I correct with that?

Yes, correct. PlanetM and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation are partners on this as well as the City of Detroit. And the reason for that is we really want to make sure that everything we’re doing is really part of the bigger transformation that’s happening that is largely led by the city and enabled by the state in terms of looking at the neighborhood development overall, the city development overall, kind of the level of transportation plans that are being not only created, but then implemented by the city to serve these needs. And then also by the innovation ecosystem that PlanetM really is attracting and convening across the state, but also in the city. So we definitely want to make sure that this is a part of that.

And can you share any of the proposed ideas so far or are they secret?

No, there’s no secrets. One of the things we really want to make sure is that this is a transparent process and it’s a process that the public and the city and everyone who has a skin in the game, which is all of us when it comes to transportation, feels comfortable with. What I can share is some of the things we’ve heard from local communities. For example, we hosted a session a few weeks ago at Nancy Whiskey in north Corktown and we heard a lot about making that neighborhood more walkable. How there are neighbors who live maybe three blocks away from each other who don’t really interact on a regular basis because there are still wide swaths of property there that needs to be filled in and how can you activate those streets, not only to enable transportation, but to invite public life and kind of have it spill out over into the streets.

We had another session at Sainte Anne’s in Hubbard Richard where we had a really strong representation from the elderly population or seniors. And we heard a lot of asks around safety. We heard a lot of stories from individuals have been harassed while moving around the neighborhood, especially by, frankly, young people. And so there was a real desire to see more sheltered transportation options. Not only in terms of more efficient shuttle services, but also waiting areas so that groups of people who maybe feel vulnerable can move more easily from place to place without feeling so exposed.

And then in our first session, which we held at the Ford Resource And Engagement Center, probably about a month ago, one of the things we also heard a lot about was bus efficiency and again, safety. But in particular during off peak hours. We heard from a young woman who works in the suburbs an evening shift. So she’s traveling not during rush hour, so doesn’t have to worry necessarily about congestion, but has to worry more about frequency of service. And one of the things we heard is that sometimes she stays out in the suburbs with relatives overnight because she has concern about kind of getting home, both in terms of safety but also in terms of convenience.

So these are the kinds of stories and conversations we’re having with, again, residents, workers, visitors, and what we’ll do over the next few weeks as we’ll actually take them and translate them into opportunities for solution providers to actually submit ideas. These aren’t, frankly, issues that are unique to Detroit, even if they may be more visible here. So what’s really exciting is we already have a pipeline of ideas from last year from Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids and Miami, that starts to address a lot of these topics. And I think that as we open it up and kind of have this conversation with this $250,000 of pilot funding, we’ll be able to get some really, really interesting ways to not only address these needs, but also to set the foundation for how it can really be transformative for the area and set this Michigan Central Station development area up as truly a mobility innovation hub for the world.

Yeah, absolutely. It seems like it’s a perfect opportunity to determine a specific need for a specific area and then be able to apply that solution to someplace else, either in another part of the city, another part of the state or someplace across the country.

Yes, I completely agree. We run this program now in seven cities and pretty diverse cities. Grand Rapids, which is a small but very quickly growing city, all the way up to Mexico City, which has 20 million people in it. And it’s really interesting because we’re getting a pretty good sense of the variety of ways people are experiencing transportation, both in terms of what’s working and what’s not working. Certainly while every city is unique… For example, one of biggest barriers to mobility in Pittsburgh is hills, while in Miami, it’s pretty flat but they have extreme heat and weather. They also have really aggressive car drivers. There are some general themes that we see across and many of the pilots we’re launching can not only serve those local needs, but the hope is that by really tailoring them around the value to local communities, they will be able to be successful and scaled both across those metro areas as well as to other cities.

And I think what’s really interesting about it is it represents not only learnings for the innovators, but for the cities as well. One of the things that I think is really striking when you start to look across the cities is how much transportation is going to change over the coming decades and how that really will require new forms of public, private collaboration, new funding models, new infrastructure, potentially new street design. There’s a real desire for this kind of common set of information that enables everyone, the public government and entrepreneurs or private sector kind of solution providers to really have this space to talk about kind of how are we going to do this together, what do we need from each other, what do we feel comfortable about, what do we not? And building that capacity and really changing how we have that conversation, making sure it’s grounded in the voices of people I think is also a really important learning to scale.

Now I wonder, I imagine that people ask this question on a pretty frequent basis, but we all consider Ford to be an automobile manufacturer. And so I guess people probably wonder why or how Ford innovates in the mobility space by creating transportation solutions that, in some cases, don’t have anything to do with the individual single ownership model of the vehicle. Can you talk a little bit about how and why Ford has innovated this City:One Challenge?

So Ford Motor Company was really built on this belief that freedom of movement drives human progress. And if you look at back a hundred years ago when Henry Ford founded the company, he was really trying to look at how can you make peoples’ lives easier? How can you make farmers’ lives less difficult? How can you enable people to move beyond the, I think it was something like 25 miles on average that they traversed in total throughout their life. I think Bill Ford has really been a leader in this space in terms of both recognizing the contribution to society that the automobile has made over the last century, both in terms of improving access to transportation in many ways, but also in supporting industry and economic life while also recognizing that that model isn’t working in cities in particular and is not sustainable. And that our aspiration as a company is really to be in the business of supporting movement of people and goods in a way that drives human progress and as those needs change, as technology changes, the offerings that we provide also need to change.

I think the way that Ford and the City:One Innovation provides a really important tool for us to understand, again, how people, our consumer needs are evolving but also kind of where we need to have new forms of collaboration that can really make our approach more effective. And the way I always think about it is a Ford customer is going to have many different needs throughout their life. And I think about myself, I’m a relatively young woman living downtown Detroit. I don’t necessarily need a car, nor do I necessarily want a car in most cases. But fast forward five, 10 years I might have a family and my transportation needs might change significantly. Fast forward another 50 years and my personal mobility might be declining and my needs might be changing again.

So I think that the goal that I see City:One Innovation really serving in terms of Ford’s broader aspiration is making sure that our customers have the choices that they need to be successful, whether they’re individuals, whether they’re businesses, throughout that kind of life cycle. And sometimes that will be a car, sometimes that will not be a car, but we want to make sure that we’re really serving those customers to the best of our ability. And our investment in mobility is a big part of that.

So what is your favorite part personally about being involved in the City:One Innovation, the City:One Challenge?

I think my favorite part is hearing these individual stories and experiences and in particular, elevating voices that are not part of the mainstream conversation today. A lot of the people we heard from last year were people with physical mobility challenges or disabilities, but also mental health considerations that were affecting the way they moved around. Really kind of hearing at the person to person level what that experience is and then being able to kind of connect that to this industry conversation as transportation as a system is I think super… One, it’s very moving and satisfying. But I think it also really allows us to ground what we’re doing in something that is important, which is again, making individual lives better. And so that’s definitely my favorite part. I love being in the field every time I go and go to one of these sessions or support an interview and hear from another person.

I always both feel really excited, but also very hopeful that this technology and innovation really can have a meaningful impact.

What else do you want people to know about the City:One Innovation, especially in Detroit?

Yeah. I think the main thing I want people to take away is obviously $250,000 in pilot funding, while that’s a big number, is not going to solve all of the problems around transportation in Detroit. There are a lot of things that need to happen and that’s going to take time and that’s going to take support for even things like public transportation regionally and it’s going to take some serious funding, but one, Ford and the program are kind of looking at it from that longterm perspective and also the point of this program, the City:One Innovation Challenge, is to really look at kind of where can we use pilots to experiment and identify positive steps forward so that those bigger decisions are informed by the way that technology and innovation can actually help people.

So it’s a step in a larger process and it’s an invitation to everyone to take part with us in co-creating that future. Everyone’s welcome to participate. Everyone’s welcome to apply. If there’s questions, you can follow up with our team directly. We’re really excited to be thinking about what is the transportation system of tomorrow and how can we use this opportunity to listen to peoples’ needs today and then find some really exciting pilots that allow us to experiment and move forward in our city.

It is very exciting. I will admit, I pinch myself often that I get to do this work.

Aniela, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about this particular innovation and I look forward to watching it unfold.

Thank you very much.
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Thanks for listening to Driven’s Mobility Moments podcast. I’m Claire Charlton. Talk to you again soon.