Three Questions with David Zipper
Editor’s Note: David Zipper recently joined GMF as a resident fellow focusing on urban and mobility innovation.
Q: Tell me what led you from a start-up incubator to a policy institute.
A: For the last four years, I have been a managing director at 1776, which is a global start-up hub based here in Washington, DC. I led all of our work with start-ups and officials in the Cities and Transportation sectors. I worked with hundreds of start-ups, linking them with mayors and city leaders all around the world, as well as international organizations like the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.
I got connected to The German Marshall Fund of the United States through Geraldine Gardner, who runs the Urban and Regional Policy Program. She invited me to speak to a variety of city leaders from southern Europe as part of the METROS program. I gave a presentation in Genoa, Italy about a year and a half ago about ways of building start-up eco-systems in European cities, which is a very novel concept in many European countries. It was great, and we built a relationship from that.
When I made the decision to leave 1776 and pursue other channels to drive progress in smart cities and mobility, Geraldine was thoughtful enough to suggest that I build new urban mobility programming within the GMF Urban and Regional Policy Program. And that is what I am doing. It is only two weeks in, but I am already having conversations with the big auto companies and local officials about ways that we can together build programming that benefits city transportation leaders in Europe as well as in the United States.
Q: One thing that makes GMF unique is that while we are transatlantic in scope and we are looking at big, international challenges, we do have the Urban and Regional Program, which bridges the gap between the local and international. What is your perspective on how cities influence or shape foreign affairs, especially within the transatlantic context.
A: The future is urban. There is even talk of creating a global parliament of cities, because there are so many common goals shared by mayors around the world, but especially in Europe and the United States. You saw that with the support for the Paris Agreement on climate change, where mayors for the first time really stepped forward and said, "This is something that matters to us as city leaders and you national leaders better get aligned with us." That is exciting.
At the same time, when you think about the most important trends reshaping urban life, many of them are rooted in new technologies like ridesharing platforms. For example, you see the deployment of autonomous vehicles getting closer and closer. Those changes are going to affect cities first, and they are going to affect cities in similar ways. And it creates opportunities to change best practices and learnings from Europe and the United States as the two parts of the world that are — along with Canada, Australia, and Japan — pretty much leading the way.
Q: Speaking about technological innovation, it feels like we are in an age of revolution. Every few years, the unimaginable has become commonplace. As somebody who has been on the cutting edge of that world, what trends should we be keeping our eyes on?
A: There are three courses that are completely transforming transportation within cities, which to me is the fastest evolving part of urban life. Together they are creating an environment where, as the CEO of Ford said, "We're going to see more change in transportation over the next ten years than we have since the Model T came out a hundred years ago."
It is really the combination and interaction of three trends. One is the emergence of ride-share and bike-share, along with higher utilization of cars. The average car sits idle 95 percent of the time here in the United States. It is not going to stay that way.
On top of that, you are seeing the emergence of electric vehicles, which are critical in terms of achieving overall climate goals. But they also have all kinds of impacts on infrastructure due to charging requirements, and they will alter employment trends because of lower maintenance costs due to fewer components.
Then finally, you have autonomous. And you think about the opportunity to have an autonomous car that could be a ride-share vehicle and electric. Now you have lower cost of service and less pollution and you have essentially transformed how people get from point A to point B within the city safely, quickly, and pleasantly. Watching those forces interact in the next ten years is going to be fascinating.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.