Throughout this week, the Obama Administration will be highlighting America’s capacity for creativity and invention and how our innovative progress over the last seven and a half years has helped continue to make the U.S. economy the strongest and most durable in the world. As part of this effort, today the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Columbus, Ohio as the winner of its Smart City Challenge, moving one giant step closer to an urban transportation future that includes self-driving and connected vehicles, and smart traffic management systems that reduce congestion. Columbus will receive up to $40 million in DOT funding to bring its vision of this future to life, and will leverage over $100 million in private resources to carry out its plan.
By challenging cities to develop and articulate their own visions, with significant flexible funding for a single winning city and meaningful technical support to other cities, the Smart City Challenge represents an important new Federal approach for spurring urban innovation. It’s just one example of how this Administration has worked over the past seven years to develop a new, smarter, more collaborative approach to working with local communities. The Administration has put citizens, community groups, and local leaders at the center of its efforts. And, the enormous response DOT received—78 cities crafted applications—demonstrates the appetite city leaders have for this approach.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommended replicating the DOT approach in its February 2016 report on Technology and the Future of Cities. In the report, PCAST recommended new steps that the Federal Government can take to help cities make the most of technology and innovation to tackle pressing challenges, from aging infrastructure to inclusion.
PCAST’s important recommendations build on the Administration’s place-based approach to working with communities, which means coordinating Federal resources to meet local needs by working hand-in-hand with localities. Whether the goal is investing in infrastructure or bolstering community policing, this approach is yielding results—and technology and innovation hold great promise to accelerate these efforts. In building smarter cities, local leaders have the chance to create new avenues for increasing access to opportunity by linking density to transit or building on evidence that connecting low-income workers with public transportation increases the return on investments by yielding stronger growth in ridership.
With that in mind, the Administration launched the White House Smart Cities Initiative last September. An initial investment of over $160 million in research is devoted to growing the pipeline of proven new technologies available to help cities solve pressing challenges—for instance, cutting-edge sensor networks that automatically adjust traffic flows in real-time to reduce gridlock and emissions. The initiative also includes a range of new partnerships, with cities and universities already collaborating to launch more than 60 new smart city projects across the country.
To build on this momentum and take new steps to advance the Smart Cities Initiative, the Administration is excited to announce that we will be holding an event as part of Smart Cities Week in Washington, D.C. in late September. The goal of the convening will be to bring together leading thinkers and practitioners from government, the research community, cities, civil society, and the tech sector to discuss new steps that will help cities thrive in the 21st century.
The White House invites YOU to participate in this all-hands-on-deck approach. We are eager to hear your ideas for promising activities, potential collaborations, and new commitments that are underway or under development and that could help accelerate new solutions and build smarter cities. Tell us what you are doing to respond to this important call to action to help cities become smarter via this web form by September 1, 2016.
Dan Correa is a Senior Advisor for Innovation Policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.