Opportunity Areas

Back to Opportunity Areas

Smart Cities and Civic Solutions

Definition

Emerging approaches to urban infrastructure, transportation, energy and sustainability, including government-focused and “smart cities” technologies.

Overview

The need to keep up with the demands placed on urban infrastructure and transportation by rapid urbanization and technological advances creates an opportunity areas focused on issues ranging from modernization of infrastructure (e.g., updating energy, water, and transportation infrastructure), using information technology and open data to enhance city operations and services, and advancing environmental sustainability. Known as the smart cities industry, it is expected to grow to an estimated $88.7 billion globally by 2025.1 Smart city transformations are taking place in cities of all sizes, enabled by the developments in city-related connected devices (i.e., the Internet of Things or IoT), solar and battery technology, and mobile and data-enabled transportation technologies. Columbus, Ohio won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $40 million Smart City Challenge in June 2016 to fully integrate innovative technologies (self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors) into their transportation network.2 Columbus is matching the USDOT and Vulcan grants with $90 million in pledges from public and private sector partners.3 Beyond their high economic growth potential, smart cities and civic solutions create a positive externality benefiting the cities in which they are incubated.

DC has been a hotbed of activity for innovation aimed at solving urban problems (particularly in the transportation space), enabling greater civic participation in government, and delivering citizen services.4 Existing initiatives and policies to support smart cities and civic solutions include the Pennsylvania 2040 Project, a public-private partnership to implement Internet of Things technologies on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and the 2016 Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act to increase DC’s renewable portfolio standard to 50% by 2032.5 Companies such as Uber, Lyft, RideScout, and Bridj have started a movement not just within the transportation space, but in using mobile technology and data to transform the way that people interact with cities.

Example Industries and Businesses

  • ‘Smart city’ sensors, integration, and data analysis
  • Sustainability infrastructure, including green building design and construction
  • Municipal service delivery innovation
  • Civic/government tech
  • Transportation and mobility, including autonomous vehicles, non-motorized transit and congestion solutions

Example Specialties and Skills

  • Sustainability, energy and infrastructure upgrades and retrofitting
  • Engineering and computer science
  • Data science, management and analytics
  • Urban planning
  • Urban agriculture and food systems
  • Business administration and development (e.g. sales)
  • Legal and regulatory
  • Operations and customer support
  • Computer user support specialists

Visit the initiatives page and filter Opportunity Area by “Smart Cities and Civic Solutions” to see initiatives related to this opportunity area

DC’s Comparative Advantage

Based on our analysis and stakeholder interviews, DC has the following comparative advantages:

DC’s Urban Environment

DC offers several advantages as a location to grow the smart cities and civic solutions sector. Its status as the national capital gives it a branding advantage to attract firms that want to demonstrate that their city solutions work in a major American city. As a city that can make policy without the friction of having to contend with state government, DC has jurisdictional simplicity that makes it easier to test out new ideas. DC also has strong public transit and air travel infrastructure compared to many other American cities.6

High Concentration of Thought Leadership and Policy Expertise

A significant amount of expertise on the subject of urban sustainable development is located in the District. These include public sector organizations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Transportation, the World Bank, think tanks, and professional associations developed around smart city and other civic issues. This advantage is amplified given the high concentration of expertise in data management and confidentiality. This concentration of expertise, which is unique to DC, creates a significant opportunity in being first adopters and innovators in new technologies that involve significant regulatory questions such as autonomous vehicles. Ultimately, creating a “smart city” requires not just the adoption of new technology, but also the soft infrastructure, including the regulatory and legal expertise, underpinning the smart transformation.

Existing Urban Solutions in Sustainability and Resilience

DC’s existing commitment to finding solutions to the urban challenges of environmental sustainability and climate change could also be drivers of innovation in areas that cities around the world are facing. For example, the District’s recently adopted Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards will boost the District’s uptake of renewable energy, and the District also has some of the nation’s most progressive storm water management standards for new buildings. DC is pursuing several long-range goals for maximizing sustainability and minimizing the negative impacts of climate change, through its 2013 Sustainable DC Plan and 2016 Climate Action. In addition, the District began the process of creating a resilience roadmap in February 2017 as a new member of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program, and it will soon hire a chief resilience officer to lead the effort. All these commitments not only foster environmental resilience, but also provide an opportunity to develop integrated solutions that DC firms could then export to meet similar challenges in other cities.

Activating this Area of Growth

Based on our analysis of this sector and stakeholder interviews, the following actions could help develop this opportunity area:

Creating a Smart City and Civic Solutions Policy Ecosystem

Given the concentration of policy expertise located within the region, DC has an opportunity to become a leader in smart city policy. DC can develop and implement new policies and regulations (e.g. build on the new open data policy with data protection laws) that can provide a first-mover advantage capable of spurring smart city entrepreneurship. These can help serve as an example to other cities that are becoming increasingly connected. Furthermore, DC has an opportunity to explore new city-led partnership models that brings together governments, universities, established businesses, entrepreneurs, foundations, and social sector entities to address increasingly multi-dimensional urban challenges.

Given the concentration of policy expertise located within the region, DC has an opportunity to become a leader in smart city policy. DC can develop and implement new policies and regulations (e.g. build on the new open data policy with data protection laws) that can provide a first-mover advantage capable of spurring smart city entrepreneurship. These can help serve as an example to other cities that are becoming increasingly connected. Furthermore, DC has an opportunity to explore new city-led partnership models that brings together governments, universities, established businesses, entrepreneurs, foundations, and social sector entities to address increasingly multi-dimensional urban challenges.

New Procurement Mechanisms

Government procurement and adoption of smart cities and other urban solutions has also been a driver of innovation in these industries, by providing an initial source of revenue and customer feedback, as well as allowing firms to prove that their technologies and innovations work. For example, Barcelona has started to use challenge- or problem-based procurement. Instead of using traditional contracting, the city has identified challenges faced by the city and has opened solving them to entrepreneurs.7 Other cities have also taken this approach, including Singapore, whose water industry was spurred by government procurement of leading-edge water reclamation technology. DC can take a similar approach, using new procurement mechanisms to help encourage holistic solutions to its urban challenges. By transitioning to challenge-based procurement and using new mechanisms (including prizes, competitive grants, and broad agency announcements), DC can mobilize a diverse set of businesses and entrepreneurs to tackle urban problems in new ways, creating benefits in the city and promoting economic growth.

Impending Infrastructure and Utility Upgrades

Key pieces of infrastructure in the District are aging and expected to undergo major upgrades or investments in the near future. Examples include grid upgrades, DC water infrastructure improvements, Anacostia Riverfront remediation, and bridge replacements. These projects offer opportunities to catalyze smart city solutions and will increase the demand for construction and trades labor. Paired with anticipated retirements of workers at DC Water and the forthcoming real estate academy at the MLK Incubator announced in December 2016, these projects could help strengthen pathways into smart cities careers and support economic mobility for workers with less educational attainment.

 

  1. “Annual Global Smart City Revenue is Expected to Reach $88.7 Billion by 2025, According to Navigant Research” Business Wire, 19 July 2016. < http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160719005189/en/Annual-Global-Smart-City-Revenue-Expected-Reach>.
  2. The City of Columbus. “Smart Columbus.” Accessed 21 December 2016. <https://www.columbus.gov/smartcolumbus/>
  3. Ibid.
  4. Schwartz, Eric Hal. “How DC Becoming a Hub for Transportation Startups.” DC Inno. 1 July 2015. <http://dcinno.streetwise.co/2015/07/01/dc-tech-why-dc-is-a-transportation-startup-hub/>.
  5. Fehrenbacher. Katie. “5 Energy Trends to Watch in 2016.” Fortune. 18 July 2016. <http://fortune.com/2015/12/30/5-trends-energy-2016/>
  6. SmartAsset. The Best Cities for Public Transportation. 24 February 2016.
  7. “Smart Cities – Revolutionizing Public Procurement in Barcelona.” Procurious. 28 January 2016. < https://www.procurious.com/blog/generation-procurement/smart-cities-revolutionising-public-procurement-in-barcelona>.