Growing urbanization presents the United States with an opportunity to showcase its innovation strength, grow its exports, and help to improve citizens’ lives – all at once. Seizing this triple opportunity will involve a concerted effort to develop and apply new technologies to enhance the way cities work for the people who live there.
A new report released today by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), Technology and the Future of Cities, lays out why now is a good time to promote technologies for cities: more (and more diverse) people are living in cities; people are increasingly open to different ways of using space, living, working, and traveling across town; physical infrastructures for transportation, energy, and water are aging; and a wide range of innovations are in reach that can yield better infrastructures and help in the design and operation of city services.
There are also new ways to collect and use information to design and operate systems and services. Better use of information can help make the most of limited resources – whether city budgets or citizens’ time – and help make sure that the neediest as well as the affluent benefit from new technology.
Although the vision of technology’s promise applies city-wide, PCAST suggests that a practical way for cities to adopt infrastructural and other innovation is by starting in a discrete area – a district, the dimensions of which depend on the innovation in question. Experiences in districts can help inform decisions elsewhere in a given city – and in other cities. PCAST urges broader sharing of information about, and tools for, innovation in cities.
Such sharing is already happening in isolated pockets focused on either specific kinds of information or recipients of specific kinds of funding. A more comprehensive City Web, achieved through broader interconnection, could inform and impel urban innovation. A systematic approach to developing open-data resources for cities is recommended, too.
PCAST recommends a variety of steps to make the most of the Federal Government’s engagement with cities. To begin, it calls for more – and more effective – coordination among Federal agencies that are key to infrastructural investments in cities. Coordination across agencies, of course, is the key to place-based policy. Building on the White House Smart Cities Initiative, which promotes not only R&D but also deployment of IT-based approaches to help cities solve challenges, PCAST also calls for expanding research and development coordination to include the physical, infrastructural technologies that are so fundamental to city services.
A new era of city design and city life is emerging. If the United States steers Federal investments in cities in ways that foster innovation, the impacts can be substantial. The rest of the world has also seen the potential, with numerous cities showcasing different approaches to innovation. The time to aim for leadership in urban technologies and urban science is now.
Mark Gorenberg, Craig Mundie, and Eric Schmidt are members of PCAST and co-chairs of the PCAST Cities Working Group. Marjory Blumenthal is Executive Director of PCAST.
PCAST is an advisory group of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers, appointed by the President to augment the science and technology advice available to him from inside the White House and from cabinet departments and other Federal agencies. For more information about PCAST, please visit the PCAST website.