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5 Top Insights About Smart Cities


Government representatives and innovators from 30 countries and 130-plus American cities just wrapped up the Smart Cities Week conference, where they discussed how smart technologies can advance and improve cities everywhere.

The White House announced a $80 million investment in the Smart Cities Initiative, and Pittsburgh recently welcomed Uber’s self-driving cars. And these are just a few examples of the many developments smart-city technology is seeing.

With more to come for urban mobility, city power grids and local government initiatives, let’s take a look at the top insights on smart cities this year so far.

Investing in New Urban Information Systems

One of 1776’s investments is in Washington, D.C.-based TransitScreen, a startup that produces real-time, way-finding displays. Cities in both rich and poor countries are growing rapidly, and transportation modes like bicycling and ridesharing are gaining popularity. As cities expand and transit options evolve, urban residents and visitors face information overloads when deciding how to get from point A to point B.

Earlier this year, 1776 hosted a startup roundtable with Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly, who immediately recognized TransitScreen from the public-private partnership that introduced the screens across Seattle last year (fun fact: after a screen was installed in a Seattle hospital, a nearby coffee shop saw a 35-percent increase in sales as visitors realized they had enough time to grab coffee before buses arrived). TransitScreens are now in dozens of cities around the world, including Vancouver, Paris, Boston, Dallas and London.

1776 believes that a smart city is a responsive and personalized city — one in which a citizen gets accurate information needed to make decisions quickly and reliably. Urban residents constantly choose from multiple transportation modes — often multiple times per day — and we are proud to support TransitScreen’s efforts to make those decisions a little easier and a little wiser.

Navigating Hyper-Innovation in Urban Mobility

We are witnessing a global land grab in urban mobility — with entertaining skirmishes, strikes, lawsuits and even criminal charges (e.g., Uber in France). In the old days, people would get around town by car, public transit or taxi. But in five short years, most metro areas now have over a dozen mobility providers.

Xerox launched an effort to address three over-arching challenges in urban mobility. In the process, we developed a mobility marketplace platform for local government to better coordinate the hyper-innovation in the transportation industry.

Montréal’s Experiment in Cultivation and Collaboration

The smart city doesn’t just happen — it needs to be cultivated. While vision and planning are requirements, a city must also take advantage of the uncontrollable and unpredictable speed, energy, and creativity that startups, in particular, bring. This new reality has critical implications for municipalities, which must seek out and nurture innovation at the source. This is the experiment Montréal has taken on.

As head of Canada’s first smart city accelerator, InnoCité MTL, with a mandate to cultivate stakeholder dialogue and engagement, I’ve been in the unique position of working to bring these two worlds together. If Montréal has come to be known as one of the world’s top smart communities, it’s because the city and its business community have recognized the role of startups in finding out-of-the box solutions.

Didn’t Win $50 Million to Improve Urban Mobility? Turn to Startups.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx whittled a crowd of 77 cities down to seven when he announced the finalists of the Smart City Challenge. The Challenge, which has attracted a tremendous amount of media and industry attention, will ultimately allot $50 million to one American city that offers a transformative vision to improve urban mobility through transportation technology.

The spotlight is now on the seven finalists, but it would be a squandered opportunity if the other 70 applicants abandoned their Smart City Challenge proposals to collect dust on a shelf (a common fate for unsuccessful grant applications). Even without a multi-million dollar award, cities can make significant headway improving urban mobility through ridesharing, electric vehicle adoption, and many other areas.

What is the easiest way for cities to make progress without the $50 million? Embrace mobility startups.

Startups Making Olympic Cities Smarter

Ever since athletes got stuck in massive traffic jams during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, host cities have provided detailed transportation plans for the Olympic games.

Rio focused extensively on upgrading its transportation system before the Olympics. The city spent $2.6 billion on a metro extension serving the Olympic village. A large portion of its $11.4 billion Olympic budget went to transportation, including bus rapid transit lines, and a new light rail tram circuit.

Olympic city planners looking for transportation solutions that can deploy quickly should consider passing the torch to these startups.

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