This special thought leadership endeavor by the inaugural class of Future 50 reimagines the Columbus community under bold new ideas. Behold a possible future.

Three years ago, while hosting a visit for dignitaries from the United Arab Emirates who had come to learn about our Smart City work, I was posed a question many people think but very few ask: “When do you decide not to grow so that you can focus on quality of life at the size you are right now?”

If you look at cities like San Francisco and Austin as benchmarks for Columbus, you’d likely envy their population growth and booming tech sectors, but be appalled by their cost of living and growing inequity. In hindsight, their growth did not concern itself with bringing everyone along, rather it furthered the underlying divides and increased inequity.

Like my fellow Future 50 classmates, I love this community deeply and want to see Columbus fulfill its greatest potential. Central Ohio is the only place I’ve ever called home. I’ve spent the last decade working to advance the economic growth agenda and build the reputation of the region at the Columbus Partnership. Through my work at Smart Columbus, I have come to strongly believe in our ability to come together to make the impossible, possible. And one of those seemingly impossible things I believe we can do is improve conditions and opportunities for our most vulnerable residents while also growing our city with new people and businesses.

This piece of thought leadership is part of 11 Moonshot Ideas to Move the Columbus Region Forward: A Future 50 project.

THE IDEAS

The private sector should fight inequity

Closing the digital divide

Driving equity by funding women-owned businesses

Designing a more equitable region

Using data to guide public policy 

Customer-centricity in social services

The need for a civic renaissance

A radical recalibration of education

Reimagining community-police relations

ISO: Ambassadors for science

Finding true work-life balance post-Covid

Why we did this project

I was honored to be included in Columbus CEO’s inaugural Future 50 class. In my mind, it was a recognition uniquely different than a list of the young and accomplished. Rather, it was a nod to “the crazy ones.” As Steve Jobs’ famous quote says, “The ones who see things differently … change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

The class is just that. Individuals who quit their corporate jobs to start nonprofits, educators pioneering new ways for young people to learn, researchers convicted to solve cancer, entrepreneurs disrupting their industries, relentless activists calling for change, and government leaders getting things done. This class has big ideas and big visions for what Columbus can be—and they are making it happen.

Given the ambition and passion of this group, Columbus CEO asked each of us to pitch a joint project. At the first meet and greet event, I was so impressed with the diversity and caliber of the ideas. Mine was a proposal for the class to co-author “Moonshot Magazine,” a takeover of Columbus CEO dedicated to the big ideas that this class had for making our community better. Sure enough, the class overwhelmingly voted to pursue this project, Editor Katy Smith said yes …

... And then 2020 happened.

What we deemed as normal in January has been almost entirely disrupted. Canceled travel, rescheduled weddings, remote work, facemasks as fashion statements, essential workers for the win, PPP Loans, little to no live entertainment, lines outside retail stores—not for crowds but for maintaining physical distance—virtual school, hybrid school, road trips are cool again, we all want antibodies, home improvement projects, plants, pandemic puppies, Netflix binging, TikTok challenges, Zoom calls, YOU’RE ON MUTE… Whoa, that’s a lot of change all at once… But one more really, really important thing: Black Lives Matter.

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Covid-19 and our national awakening to racial injustice has forced us to confront the inequalities that have permeated our culture and its institutions for generations. We’ve had to reckon with this confrontation not just on a national or global scale, but within ourselves, our own homes, neighborhoods, businesses and community.

Acknowledging the heaviness of the time and the need for big ideas, the Future 50 class reconvened this summer and put forth 11 bold concepts with underlying themes of greater empathy in the public discourse, updated expectations for public institutions and services, bigger bets on people and placemaking as economic drivers, and the idea that data will empower a new way of operating in the future.

The question I was asked several years ago by that UAE delegation assumed that for a city to grow, you’d have to sacrifice quality of life and leave people behind. In my experience studying other cities, this is too often the case. I think as you encounter the future envisioned herein, you will see 2020 is an opportunity we will get only once in our lifetimes: a chance to rebuild our economy, recalibrate our culture, and reshuffle priorities.

As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Let’s go change the world, Columbus!

Jordan Davis is director of Smart Columbus with the Columbus Partnership.

Related: Jordan Davis' Covid response galvanized a volunteer force 700 strong. There's no stopping Can't Stop Columbus.