Creating technologies that can better the lives of city dwellers is not easy. Besides the normal business struggles of finding a market fit and standing out from the competition, companies that have to integrate their technology into some aspect of the municipal landscape have huge hurdles like convincing cities to do…well anything.
But increased transparency and accountability that technology has provided plus some lofty goals that mayors are keen to promise have given cities a reason to innovate like never before. More and more cities are hiring Chief Technology, Data or Information Officers and the most progressive are actively opening their operations up to pilot programs. As far as cities go, it doesn’t get much more progressive than Brooklyn. They have a six-point plan that they think will help them become the city that they want to be by 2025. Granted, some of the action items are as vague as “Effective and engaging government recognized as a leader,” but at least they have vision.
The so-called “Living Lab” has already chosen three technologies for its first phase of testing. They range from a noise pollution monitoring network to a timelapse real estate and local conditions mapping tool to a public space feedback platform.
Cities are embracing not only startups but large tech companies as well. New York’s former CTO, Miguel Gamiño, just announced that he is joining credit card company Mastercard at last week’s Smart City New York conference. He sees his new role as a way to pursue payment partnerships with cities.
It is heartening to see so much public/private interface. We all realize that for true change to happen in our built environment that cities have to be a large part of the conversation. Still, it is not an easy path dealing with elected and appointed officials that either have no reason to improve or might be replaced by the time a project gets past the planning stage.
While China has been able to embed smart city technologies in many of its major cities, the U.S’s civic innovation has been limited to localized pilot programs like Living Lab. Dealing with a democratically elected government obviously has major pitfalls. Some investors in PropTech stay away from government facing technologies. But as Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms.”