Podcasts are one of the best ways to consume complex information in an easy format – and perfect for multitasking in traffic, on the bus, or out for a walk.
What isn’t easy is actually finding content that’s worth listening to – who has the time to sample the first ten minutes of every podcast out there?
As avid local gov geeks at Zencity, we turned to our own in-house podcast guru — Jack English — to get his take. Jack, who hosts the weekly podcast, City Hall Stories, has put together his top 5, favorite govtech podcasts of 2021. So check out his list below.
For Jack, each of these podcasts made his list of favorites because each one presents a different and unique slice of the local government ecosystem. Whether you want to understand how water flows through the pipes or how trillions of dollars of government grant funding gets allocated, these podcasts will open the door – and your mind.
Jack’s Top 5 Local Gov & GovTech Podcasts
1. GovLove hosted by ELGL. It would be impossible for any list on local gov podcasting not to begin with the industry stalwart: GovLove. Created by ELGL, a pioneering organization built to inspire young local government leaders, GovLove sits at almost 500 episodes. This ensures there is truly something for everyone, regardless of your specific interest or service area.
Hosted by local government employee volunteers, each episode balances the exploration of the individual and the organization, resulting in fascinating vignettes that bring humanity to the work of city hall.
Recommended episode: #473 “Monuments & Racial Justice in Newark, NJ,” hosted by Ashley Copeland, Communications Manager for the City of Newnan, Georgia, who brings together a varied group of guests to discuss the process of replacing a Christopher Columbus statue with one of Harriet Tubman in Newark, NJ. Listen here.
2. Strong Towns Podcast hosted by Charles Marohn. The Strong Towns movement is one I’m personally passionate about. It focuses on growing awareness of the financial unsustainability of American local governments due to the patterns of development followed since World War II. While initially, it seemed like the US’ endless expanses of space meant more housing and more land for the average family, suburbanization and exclusionary zoning systematically lowered taxable revenue streams while also massively burdening local governments with maintenance for sprawling infrastructure.
If this is a topic that piques your interest, Strong Towns lays it all out much better than I do!
Recommended episode: “Here’s How Cities Undermine Their Own Competitiveness,” which is actually an episode where podcast host Charles is being interviewed. In a nutshell, the episode talks about how the big box store model and mega projects are ultimately extractive for cities ‘lucky’ enough to win their business. Listen here.
3. The Smart Community Podcast hosted by My Smart Community. ‘Smart’ is a word used so much in local government, it’s become almost meaningless. Is it the Internet of Things, good old-fashioned business improvement, or just a marketing buzzword?
The Smart Community Podcast delves into literally every aspect of this, attempting to provide a centralized record of how local governments around the world are thinking ‘smart.’
From putting cameras on police cars to track road degradation, to figuring out how to measure citizen wellbeing, this podcast is a must-listen for all local gov innovators that want to keep up with the Joneses.
Recommended episode: #244. Christchurch’s Michael Healey talks about building a city from the ashes of an earthquake, and all of the innovation that tragic opportunity has presented. Listen here.
4. Technopolis hosted by Molly Turner and Jim Kapsis, a CityLab Podcast. Although the uploads aren’t as frequent as I’d like, the content that does come out is so good I couldn’t leave it out. Hosted by two industry experts, they ask not only some of the biggest questions cities face today, but also many questions that no one else is asking.
Produced in This American Life style – narrative exposition spliced with interview content – each episode weaves a compelling story around a central theme that, by the end, will have you walking down the block with entirely different eyes.
While often there is no concrete solution to the concerns being discussed, the fact that awareness is being brought to topics like the digital underclass, restaurants vs. delivery apps, and venture capital investment in local governments is reason enough to score this as a ‘must listen.’
Recommended episode: “Climate Resilient City” explores the fascinating intersection of cities emerging from the economic ravages of a pandemic to face their biggest challenge yet: extreme weather. Listen here.
The mandate here is rather broad, with each episode being a simple interview with a leader in the local government space. Rather than being U.S. centric, this is an international podcast with guests hailing from across the globe to discuss fundamental municipal issues from the narrow (road design) to broad (economic development) – and everything in between.
If you share the belief that local government is the most fundamental change agent that exists in our society, this is a worthwhile listen that balances the conceptual and the operational.
Recommended episode: #13. Dave Amos, the producer of the YouTube channel City Beautiful, discusses concrete steps that local governments can begin making today to make their communities more livable, more open, and more human. Listen here.