Mayor Bryan Barnett of Rochester Hills, Michigan, pictures a city where everyone lives within 3 minutes of a park. Photo: Erica Pandey/Axios

AUSTIN — The conversation about the future focuses on dazzling advances. And when it comes to the U.S., nearly all of that discovery is concentrated in superstar coastal cities, where the bulk of jobs, talent and wealth can be found.

But spending the weekend at the South by Southwest conference, I learned from mayors across the country that they feel stuck in the past. They said they are still grappling with questions like how to fill town squares after the exodus of retailers, and how to replace parking meters with apps if large parts of the local population doesn't use smartphones.

One solution, per Jake Dunagan of the Institute for the Future, is to get mayors to think like futurists.

What's happening: At the conference, Austin Mayor Steve Adler invited counterparts from 24 second-tier cities to have a chat. Over three days, futurists, architects and activists urged the mayors to think about the things that the superstar cities long ago began to figure out, like how to deal with the challenges brought on by innovation over the next decade.

  • One exercise, a game developed by the leaders of Carnegie Mellon's Situation Lab, took a lighthearted approach to weighty topics like AI, gentrification and autonomous tech.

I sat in on a brainstorming session between Mayors Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, Tim Keller of Albuquerque, and Chris Cabaldon of West Sacramento, California. Their team was thinking of the most ambitious way to change zoning and jazz up their downtowns.

  • Cabaldon asked his teammates: In a world where people can increasingly get everything delivered to their doorstep, how do you get people out of their houses and preserve downtown as a gathering place?
  • What they came up with: Outlaw private vehicles downtown and eliminate the parking garage. In their place would be charging stations for public electric vehicles, places to eat and mingle, and food trucks parked in a long line.
  • In 2030, Benjamin said, "the last parking meter in the city will be gone."

Go deeper

NYC's coronavirus positivity rate spikes to highest since June

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

New York City's coronavirus positivity rate has ticked up to 3.25%, its highest since June, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The jump — from 1.93% on Monday — came on the first day that public elementary classrooms reopened in the city after months of closures, but guidelines state that all public schools will have to shut if the citywide seven-day positivity rate stays above 3%.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 a.m. ET: 33,423,249 — Total deaths: 1,003,008 — Total recoveries: 23,199,564Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 a.m. ET: 7,152,221 — Total deaths: 205,268 — Total recoveries: 2,794,608 — Total tests: 102,342,416Map.
  3. Health: Americans won't take Trump's word on the vaccine, Axios-Ipsos poll finds.
  4. Media: Fauci: Some of what Fox News reports about COVID-19 is "outlandish"
  5. States: Cuomo extends New York moratorium on evictions until 2021.
  6. World: More than 1 million people have now died from coronavirus — India the second country after U.S. to hit 6 million cases.
Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

AppHarvest is going public

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

AppHarvest, a Morehead, Ky.-based developer of large-scale tomato greenhouses, is going public via a reverse merger with a SPAC called Novus Capital (Nasdaq: NOVSU). The company would have an initial market value of around $1 billion.

Why it's a BFD: This is about to be a "unicorn" based in one of America's poorest congressional districts. AppHarvest CEO Jonathan Webb tells Axios that the company will employ around 350 people in Morehead by year-end, and that its location allows its product to reach 75% of the continental U.S. within a one-day drive.

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