A key theme reiterated at Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC was the recent evolution of the smart cities market to focus prospective projects more on people and how they would be affected by new technology, rather than the technology itself. As stated in one of my previous blogs, one of the keys to Columbus, Ohio winning the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Smart City Challenge and beating out the better-known technology centers of San Francisco, Austin, and Denver was the city’s ability to demonstrate that its plan would result in increasing poor residents’ access to new transportation options.
Keynote speakers at the conference also discussed the White House’s recent announcement that it will be providing an additional $80 million for smart city projects in response to the enormous interest that the DOT Smart City Challenge received. The majority of the new funding is expected to go toward the National Science Foundation.
Transportation and Economic Opportunity
Transportation as a connection to social inclusion was another key focus area of Smart Cities Week. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated, “We have an opportunity … This is the first time in the history of our nation that we have a chance to build a transportation ecosystem that isn’t weighed down by exclusions, but is built on inclusion.” Again using Columbus as an example, the city is developing an app that would enable residents to pay for a multitude of transportation options (i.e., public transit, ride-hailing, and carsharing) through universal fare cards, with kiosks being set up in poorer communities to allow residents without smartphones or bank accounts to still have access to mobility services. Connecting to the socioeconomic challenges of cities is an important element in gaining citizen support for smart city programs.
City Infrastructure Under Transformation
As cities around the world continue to reach a boiling point in terms of traffic congestion and a lack of parking availability, smart city solutions have the potential to completely transform city infrastructure, improving quality of life and increasing the efficiency of cities. Low-cost autonomous ride-hailing programs could remove much of the need for excessive personal vehicles on the road and alleviate ubiquitous on-street parking. New spaces for walking and bicycling would be opened up, transforming the city into a more inclusive space, with low-cost transportation options for all residents.