Knope of the Week: Carolyn Zelikow, Aspen Institute & Hometown Summit

The Knope of the Week recognizes sustained excellence in local government. It’s the Heisman Trophy, Noble Peace Prize, James Beard Award all rolled into one. Many have vied for the honor over the years, but only a few winners have emerged. Kendrick Lamar, Bono, and Cam Newton — none of them can list Knope of the Week recipient on their resume.

The power of the Knope of the Week was recognized in this TedTalk. (Fast forward to 12 minute mark for the Knope mention.)

The inaugural Hometown Summit was a one-of-a-kind convening and celebration of leaders in small and mid-sized cities who have spearheaded some of the nation’s most creative and successful initiatives for community problem-solving. Carolyn Zelikow was at the forefront of making this event possible.

ELGL leaders Ben Kittelson, Josh Edwards, and Kent Wyatt documented the power of the Summit, and the skillful work of Carolyn and her team of volunteers including Adam Jones, Emily Laskoe, and Rob Edwards. You will benefit from the connections that ELGL made at the Summit in upcoming GovLove episodes, web content, and events.

Revisit the Hometown Summit – #HTS17 on Twitter and Facebook pictures. Now, let’s learn more about Carolyn and what Summit attendees are saying about their experience.

Carolyn Zelikow

Program Manager at the Aspen Institute

Connect: LinkedIn

4-1-1 on Carolyn

Carolyn Zelikow manages the Urban Innovation Lab at the Aspen Institute under Jennifer Bradley in the Center for Urban Innovation. She is also Special Assistant to Aspen Institute Executive Vice President Eric Motley. Before managing the Urban Innovation Lab, Carolyn was Program Manager of the Future of Work Initiative directed by Conor McKay with the leadership of Co-Chairs Bruce Reed and John Bridgeland, as well as Honorary Co-Chairs Sen. Mark Warner and former Gov. Mitch Daniels. At the Institute, Carolyn has also managed Aspen Across America and Aspen Around Town, having started out with the Aspen Ideas Festival team.

Prior to joining Aspen, Carolyn was the Assistant Director of Tom Tom Founders Festival, a civic venture fostering culture and entrepreneurship in Charlottesville, VA in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, which draws over 30,000 in attendance and has seeded nearly $3 million to startups and new initiatives. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2012 with a B.A. in English Language and Literature, and now lives in Washington, D.C. In her spare time, she organizes a national conference for small city innovators called the Hometown Summit.

Word on the Street

Kent Wyatt, Co-Founder, ELGL

“Carolyn presented an agenda that knocked down the ever-present government silos found at similar events. Technology, communication, and partnerships were key themes. It was refreshing to hear about the incredible work being done by small and medium sized cities. As a speaker and attendee, Carolyn made this an easy event to attend and participate in. Thanks Carolyn!”

Ben Kittelson, ‎Sr. Budget & Management Analyst, City of Durham, NC

“The Hometown Summit was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to, I loved the variety of topics and the range of backgrounds and experiences of the attendees. One day I got to nerd out about economics in the morning and discuss media narratives and Town-Gown relationships in the afternoon, it was amazing. I know it takes a ton of work to pull off any conference but especially one with such breadth. Carolyn deserves a hug from Leslie Knope and I can’t wait to make the trip to Charlottesville again next year.”

Kendra Stewart, Center for Livable Communities, College of Charleston

“Carolyn MADE the Hometown Summit. Her enthusiasm, commitment and follow up were amazing. The event was a huge success and that is in large part due to Carolyn!”

Becky Ceperley, Member at Large Charleston, WV,  City Council

“Carolyn Zelikow is amazing!  The Hometown Summit was a wonderful experience – stimulating and educational.  One of the best events I have attended in terms of real issues and real solutions. Carolyn’s ability to attract fantastic talent and showcase good work going on in small cities is remarkable.”

Sara Eskrich, Alder, City of Madison, WI

“The Hometown Summit provided me just the energy I needed as I enter my second term as a local elected official. The influx of energy, enthusiasm, and new ideas for the work hit the spot! Thank you to Carolyn and all the volunteers who dedicated their valuable time to this effort.”

Ben Speggen, Program Director, The Jefferson Educational Society of Erie

“Carolyn did a stellar job organizing the Hometown Summit with the awesome and awe-inspiring speakers and sessions! And her handling of the conference logistics are top-notch, A-plus; I didn’t even need to have anyone text me every 30 seconds to let me know everything was going to be okay. Superb!”

Adam Klein, Chief Strategist at American Underground

“TomTom Festival was unusual. I travel to many conferences about entrepreneurship and cities but this was one of the few where my curiosity was provoked and encouraged to dream about how to make a better city for everyone. It spanned beyond technology and entrepreneurship which helped me see a more proper role for those things within a city and how we might better engage peers in the public sector. Outstanding job Carolyn, of creating an attendee list and moment in time, for these conversations to happen.”

Eric Reese, Center for Government Excellence, ‎Senior Implementation Advisor

“Hip music, beautiful scenery, and great conversation about cities. Carolyn put on a great summit that showcased a variety of good ideas in government…and was really fun.”

Erik Fabian, Chief Creative Officer – ResourceX

“The Hometown Summit is THE event that was needed to electrify collaborative efforts in support of small cities (and all cities). I’ve never felt energy like this, or had better conversations with inspiring leaders that led to actionable next steps, than at HTS. Carolyn is a mad genius for organizing an event that truly inspires ideas, action and undoubtedly an impactful evolution of small city success. I thank you for the opportunity to engage and contribute to this movement.”

Josh Edwards, Strategic Initiatives Manager, City of Durham, NC

“Hometown Summit provided the opportunity to connect with people who live and serve their communities in a variety of roles.  Carolyn did a great job pulling in a variety of influencers from technologists, entrepreneurs, think tanks, and local governments.  I was fortunate to collaborate and learn from people from Syracuse, Lynchburg, and Grand Forks. Where else could I have done that and hear from Senator Warner and the Backstory guys.  Carolyn has the #riseandgrind mentality that is needed to deliver thought provoking summit that is like no other.”

Supplemental Reading

Previous Recipients


Knope of the Week: Christian Williams, City of Goodyear, AZ

Knope of the Week: Pat Martel, ICMA President and City of Daly City, CA

Knope of the Week: Heather Geyer, City of Wheat Ridge, CO

The City Planner Behind Parks and Rec

Knope of the Week: Rick Usher, Kansas City (MO) Assistant City Manager