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Stanford Prodigy Channels "Google Mentality" Into $90 Million Plan to Fix Oakland

He's being called "an urban planning prodigy" with "an uncanny sense of how things actually get done in an American city." Daniel Jacobson hasn't yet graduated from Stanford, but he has produced a plan strong enough to catch the attention of a major city.

Last spring, while still a sophomore, Jacobson produced a meticulously researched 140-page plan to restore a blighted patch of the city of Oakland. His idea? Build a streetcar line that would shuttle along a 2.5-mile stretch between Oakland's historic waterfront and a declining district of struggling car dealerships.

"Stanford has such a great culture of entrepreneurship and innovation," Jacobson told Stanford Magazine, adding that he wanted to channel the campus's "Google mentality" into an urban renewal project.

"I just thought, why can't I apply this entrepreneurial spirit to a field that tends to be a little more esoteric," Jacobson adds, reached by Fast Company today. "I definitely think there's room for this sort of entreprenuerial spirit of innovation in all sorts of fields that tend to just be dictated by policy makers."

His plan, which you can find here, made its way into the hands of Oakland's Chamber of Commerce president, and now members of the City Council are actually taking it seriously. "His study has added a degree of public attention to ... why a streetcar matters," Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland's at-large City Council member and a mayoral candidate, told Stanford. And so an undergrad's independent study project could be the subject of a city's $90 million investment. (Oakland's mayoral race is pending; a decision might be announced today, in fact.)

The report makes a convincing case that the investment would soon pay for itself. A revitalization of a defunct district, 24,000 new jobs, $6 million in sales tax revenue, and an influx of 20,000 new Oakland residents could all result from Jacobson's plan, he claims. And for a city with an unemployment rate of 17%, a city that is one of America's most violent but nonetheless has had to lay off 80 cops in a budget shortfall, some urban renewal would come none too soon.

Despite his hard work and continued involvement, Jacobson hasn't been paid anything by Oakland, nor is he asking for it. He was compensated only with a $1,000 independent study research grant, "and class credit," he says. Cities often hire professional city planners to do the sort of work he volunteered. Does he worry that he might be replacing someone else's job?

"You know," he laughs. "I think that a little competition isn't a bad thing."

[Images: Daniel Jacobson]