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Smart Cities: a local platform for innovation

New York has been my favorite city since I was 7 years old. The hustle of a million different agendas and the expectations city dwellers have for their home has always sparked an excitement inside of me. Bottom line, cities attract people and people demand innovation. As technology advances, everything is becoming integrated with our day to day lives. Terms like the Internet of Things (IOT) have never felt more real. We walk around with a remote control in our pocket, often times referred to as a “cell phone”, searching and waiting for new ways to manipulate the world around us.

Last week I had the chance to attend Denver Startup Week for the 4th year in a row. One session titled, Smart Cities: the Future of Humanity, sparked something in the room that really changed the way creators can begin to look to their local cities as a platform for innovation. Looking locally for inspiration not only has the potential to make things more efficient, but to also increase our quality of life. Cities can begin looking to the private sector to help drive new vertices for expansion.

Some key key elements to consider when thinking about smart cities include physical infrastructure, network infrastructure and public policy. Physical infrastructure most often comes to mind in terms of mobility. Smart parking, car sharing/shuttling programs, bus/taxi lanes, bike highways, water pipes, electric lines, sewage maintenance and even drone delivery services are all great examples of areas cities and startups can begin to look to for innovation. Apps such as UberCar2Go, and Scoot are all examples of startups offering “smart” transit solutions while working with their local governments to adapt policies.

Public policy is crucial to smart city development and should be driven by local leadership. The private sectors can challenge public policies and officials to create a platform for cities to begin streamlining technology for the greater good. Network infrastructure is another major factor to consider when transitioning to a “smart” city and can include examples such as public wifi and standardized connection points for street level sensors.

In early 2016, The U.S Department of Transportation held a Smart City challenge with a $50 Million Federal Grant as the winning prize. Cities such as Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; Pittsburgh, Penn.; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco, Calif. aimed to create sustainable plans for creating “smart” transit, integration of both public and private sectors, and reducing emissions. The 2016 Challenge has since ended and Columbus, Ohio took the grant home as the winning city. There are still tons of resources available on the U.S Department of Transportations Smart City page including a way to list organizations interested in partnering with other smart city initiatives.

“Curiosity is essential for progress. Only when we look to worlds beyond our own can we really know if there’s room for improvement”

But why should we care about smart cities? Smart cities aim to shift focus to the people, environment and stimulate economic opportunities. Focusing on the technology itself can come second. Let’s first focus on desired outcomes and how we can create an environment for the people to give back to the next generation. Shifting technical talent to make life easier, improve our health & safety and create inclusive technology has the potential to change cities as we know them today. To alleviate the stress and create an inclusive environment for the elderly, cognitively disabled and mobility challenged, city officials can begin to provide technologists with a platform to give back to their communities. Because at the end of the day, “Curiosity is essential for progress. Only when we look to worlds beyond our own can we really know if there’s room for improvement” (Simon Sinek).