Our Next City Will Be a Smart One

Several cities around the United States have made headlines recently as they make moves to become the next “Smart City,” including the D.C. Metro area. Earlier this month Pittsburgh was front and center on the topic of Smart Cities when The White House hosted their Frontiers Conference there and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $165 million in new funding to implement Smart City technologies in places like Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, Buffalo and Marysville (OH).

The conference was appropriately held in Pittsburgh where universities like Carnegie Mellon (CMU) and University of Pittsburgh have partnered with the city in an effort to transform into one of the “smartest” cities. I’ve been very impressed by their city’s ability to lean into the technological future and think they are a shining example of the intellectual power created by a public-private partnership.

The initiative to make cities “smart” — that is, making better and more efficient use of infrastructure through new technologies — will make cities even more sustainable and powerful in our future. Economic and political power is shifting away from countries and towards cities, which are emerging as epicenters of change and innovation. I strongly believe that the cities that are able to speed the adoption of smart city technologies will be the global leaders of the next century.

The path each city will take to smart technology adoption will differ. It will require public-private partnerships like the Pittsburgh example — the city has partnered with Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh and even Uber, which launched its first self-driving fleet there in August — to find their new future. It will also require cities to learn from one another, which is the intent of initiatives like the “ smart cities collaborative”, in which DC alongside 16 other cities are testing approaches to transportation technology.

Recently, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins announced a new partnership with the city of Washington to make it the United States first Lighthouse City, which is their smart city initiative that partners with local governments to implement new Internet of Things technologies.

It’s important to think about the evolution of our region as it continues to grow at a rapid pace and government, with limited resources, try to keep up. Earlier this year, the Washington Metro area became the sixth-most populated in the U.S. at about 6.1 million residents, an increase of 63,000 individuals from the previous year and it is expected to hit 7 million by 2045. We will become a Super City-Region, much like London is, eventually spanning from Baltimore to Richmond. My hope is that projects like the one Cisco is working on with the city of D.C. will expand to include our entire region and, in an era of limited government resources, do more for their citizens with less.

While this resurgence of our city has been great for local businesses and brought new life to older neighborhoods, it hasn’t come without its challenges and making our city smart can do a lot to make it a better place for everyone to live. Technology has transformed our lives and will continue to at an even faster pace. It has the ability to solve problems like traffic and congestion, crime, improve safety, increase the flow of communication and information, conserve energy, reduce carbon emissions, deliver better healthcare, boost productivity and make city life more seamless. I’m optimistic about what these federal, state and local government investments can do for the future of our communities, but I want to encourage our governments to act quickly as these smart growth technologies can help us do more with less. And in our own region, these technologies will facilitate information sharing so we can all learn from one another.


Ted Leonsis

Ted Leonsis is a nationally renowned entrepreneur, investor, and business-builder. He sits on the board of directors of several leading companies ranging from American Express to Groupon.

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