Smart Cities, Smarter World

According to MIT, it’s estimated that the urban population increases by 2 people every second globally. The trifecta of rapid urbanization, strained infrastructure and enormous amounts of data not only challenges cities—it’s also creating new opportunities. As part of the solution to the rapid increase in urbanization, the Obama Administration recently announced a new “Smart Cities” Initiative that will invest more than $160 million in federal research and leverage more than 25 new technology collaborations to help cities find innovative approaches to their most pressing problems. The key challenges are reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate and improving the delivery of city services. According to the White House’s official press release, the new initiative “is part of this Administration’s overall commitment to target federal resources to meet local needs and support community-led solutions.”

This initiative signals an era of greater collaboration. Many federal agencies are involved, such as the National Science Foundation; the departments of Homeland Security, Commerce and Energy; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The initiative is also intended to foster more robust collaboration between a variety of sectors.

The vision? To establish an emerging community of civic leaders, data scientists, technologists, and companies who will all synergistically contribute to the infrastructure of a “Smart City.” Fueled by the growing data revolution, Smart Cities makes use of low-cost sensors and other research collaborations to improve the lives of residents and the quality of their communities.

The initiative focuses on the following four key strategies.

Internet of Things

The expansion, optimization and increased functionality of the Internet of Things (IoT), defined by the White House as “a ubiquitous network of connected devices, smart sensors, and big data analytics,” will lead the way in building Smart Cities. Advancements in the technology behind the IoT, as well as its reduced costs, have allowed the real potential of IoT applications to be tested and explored. A focal point of grant monies will go to creating test beds for the deployment of IoT among regional industry, academia and various public entities.

  1. Civic technology

A growing crowd of individuals, entrepreneurs and nonprofits have emerged who are interested in a collective IT approach to tackling local problems. The idea is for these emerging groups to develop public/private partnerships and work directly with local governments and leverage their data to develop new streamlined capabilities and optimized efficiency.

  1. Working with federal infrastructure

The federal government has an existing portfolio of activities—from research on sensor networks and cybersecurity to investments in broadband infrastructure and intelligent transportation systems—that dovetails perfectly with a Smart Cities effort.

  1. Going global

Rising population growth and urbanization will add 2.5 billion people to the world’s urban population by 2050. This kind of population surge, as well as climate change, strains our resources and calls for innovative approaches. Products and services associated with urban growth, which will occur mostly in Africa and Asia, present an important export opportunity for the United States.

The Smart Cities programs expand the Obama administration’s preference for a locally based and technology-focused approach to helping cities deal with growth and infrastructure challenges. The programs offer the chance to experiment with cost-effective solutions that, if successful, have the potential to be replicated across the country and even the world.

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