Eric Garcetti

When Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program handed out its first-ever certifications in January, Los Angeles was the only city in the country to receive gold, with eight others just behind it, earning silver.

What Works Cities is an initiative aimed at accelerating how cities use data to serve residents, and the certification rates how well cities are managed by evaluating how their leaders incorporate data and evidence into decision-making. What receiving gold means is that LA is ostensibly at the front of American municipal government efforts to become more adept at using data to improve the lives of residents. During a phone conversation with Government Technology Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he appreciates the honor, but he also hopes that in the coming year other cities will catch up.

“We’re proud to be No. 1 in the country, but we know we need to work hard to maintain that next year,” Garcetti said. “We hope everyone catches us this year, and that we leapfrog ahead for next year.”

Since being elected mayor in 2013, Garcetti has emphasized innovation and data-driven governance, both to set benchmarks and keep government accountable as well as to get an accurate read on what’s happening in his city. In the wake of winning this award, the city points to several major accomplishments that have stemmed from this approach to tech and innovation. These efforts include Pledge to Patrol, which used data analysis to determine the need for greater diversity among police recruits; CleanStat, which collects data to measure and rectify street cleanliness issues; Home for Renters Campaign, which determines areas where housing displacement is likely to occur and launches an assistance and awareness campaign around tenants’ rights; Save the Drop, a water usage analysis by ZIP code with a focus on conservation; and Girls Play L.A., which analyzed youth participation rates by gender in city-run sports leagues and determined major under-participation by girls, leading to targeted subsidies, marketing and expanded female mentorship.

Garcetti pointed to the last initiative as exceedingly relevant with his city set to spend the next decade preparing to host the 2028 Summer Olympics. Girls Play L.A. found roughly 26 percent of youth sports league participants were female. About a year and a half later, the city was able to increase that number to 46 percent. More young local girls playing sports as the world’s greatest athletic competition comes to town has the potential to leave “a lasting legacy for the Olympics,” the mayor said.

Moreover, the Olympics are receiving so much attention in town that city officials have used it as a rallying point, a motivator to hyper-charge better governance, which includes, of course, their already-lauded work with data and tech.

In that vein, Garcetti’s team is exploring more complex uses of technology to stem problems such as homelessness. The Home for Renters Campaign, which was started in 2016, will likely play a crucial role in that. Whereas in New York, many residents are aware of rules regarding rent stabilization and control, this is often not the case in L.A. So, the program, which has grown from a partnership between the city’s innovation team and its housing department, provided data about residents in areas at risk for housing challenges. Public servants were then able to focus on those areas while launching an effort to raise awareness of housing rules that could benefit tenants.

Los Angeles is also on the short list for a Smart Cities Council 2018 Readiness Challenge Grant, which could provide more tools for open data platforms, connected infrastructure and other initiatives.