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Launching a Smart Cities Initiative to Tackle City Challenges with Innovative Approaches

Over $160M in Federal research investments and more than 25 new technology collaborations to help cities solve problems announced at the Smart Cities Forum this week.

With more than 50 percent of people worldwide living in cities – a number projected to grow to nearly 70 percent by 2050 – the challenges cities face will also continue to grow. This includes everything from sustainability and energy use to safety and effective service delivery.

But, if researchers, public officials, citizens and companies can develop effective solutions to these challenges, the impact at home and abroad will be enormous.

Technology is creating new opportunities to reduce traffic congestion, fight crime, foster economic development, reduce greenhouse gases, and make local governments more open, responsive, and efficient. Around the world, cities are beginning to harness the power of sensors, engage citizens equipped with smartphones, cloud computing, high-speed networks, and data analytics.

Earlier this week, the Administration held a Smart Cities Forum and announced a new Smart Cities Initiative, which will invest over $160 million in Federal research and create more than 25 new technology collaborations to help local communities tackle 21st century challenges. By harnessing the growing data revolution and things like low-cost sensors and research collaborations, this Initiative is designed to support community efforts to come up with solutions to everyday problems.

As part of the Smart Cities Initiative, many Federal agencies are also stepping up their efforts. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced over $35 million in Smart Cities grants. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is launching a new round of the Global City Teams Challenge – a project that brings together different organizations to develop Smart City goals and advance Smart City technologies to improve residential quality of life. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Homeland Security, Energy, Transportation, and Commerce are also investing in smart city applications with projects that will help improve air-quality monitoring, increase the effectiveness of first responders, reduce traffic congestion, enhance energy-efficiency, and foster entrepreneurship.

Additional efforts will be led by new collaborations among industry, city governments, universities, and local stakeholders. Mayors Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and William Peduto of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on behalf of 22 city-university pairs of collaborators, announced the launch of the MetroLab Network, which will pilot over 60 Smart City projects in the next year to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure and services in our communities. Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the MetroLab Network builds on successful models of university-city collaboration across the country by supporting new projects, sharing ideas, and striving to create a “new normal” of city-university collaboration for research and policy development.

Several private companies also made commitments that will help further these efforts.  The Array of Things in Chicago – receiving over $3 million in funding from NSF on Monday – is a terrific example of the new collaborations underway that bring together Federal support with university and city collaborators. Comprised of 500 nodes deployed throughout the city of Chicago, each with power, Internet, and a base set of sensing and embedded information systems capabilities, the Array of Things will continuously measure the physical environment of urban areas at the city block scale and unlock promising new research trajectories. It is transformative projects like these that create the foundation for a new urban science to enable a deeper understanding of cities and what it will take to make them more livable, sustainable, equitable, and resilient.

As the new Smart Cities Initiative continues to mature, we hope to continue to grow the scale and scope of these collaborations, which are key to finding new approaches that will address the pressing urban challenges of our time.

Dan Correa is a Senior Advisor for Innovation Policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.