The inaugural edition of Smart Cities NYC began with a question: Will our cities remain anchored to the past or will they sail into the future? Jerry Hultin, Chairman and Executive Director of the event, posed the question to attendees at the onset of the show. If the following days were any indication, the answer to the question leans toward the latter.
From May 3 to 6, those who attended Smart Cities NYC ’17 were treated to a variety of panels, seminars, workshops and tours all focused on fostering people-centric progress in cities. Here are some of the things we learned over the course of the event.
Cities need to start rethinking transit
The supremacy of private car ownership in major American cities is on the way out. From an environmental and logistical perspective, this is inevitable – cities are getting too crowded for the existing model to be feasible. Fittingly, many of the panels at Smart Cities NYC ’17 were focused on the various transit challenges cities will be facing in the near future.
Of all the different ideas discussed, the consensus at the show was that, while new modes of transit are inevitable, simplicity is key. Using Finland as an example, panelists from the “Innovations in Transit” discussion noted that people will use a variety of different modes of transportation provided that access was streamlined – in this case, an app that combines different transit systems.
Whatever the solution, panelists agreed that change is coming for urban residents. The challenge for cities is to ensure that this transition goes smoothly.
“We need to evaluate our values and change accordingly,” Motivate CEO Jay Wilder said during the “Intergrated Urban Mobility” panel.
Partnerships are critical, and not just for finance
To become smart, city leaders will have to leverage existing local resources and stakeholders. We’ve already seen this trend by way of public-private partnerships, but this is just scratching the surface.
“No one entity can tackle the Smart City challenge alone,” UI Labs’ Steve Fifita told a panel on urban incubators. In this context, universities, startups and incubators all have the ability to do what cities cannot: try new things. By partnering with these institutions, cities can try out new projects and ideas without having to go the oft-derided “pilot” route.
Smart Cities need to be for everyone
Bridging the digital divide was another major theme of the show, and premiere sponsor Microsoft led the conversation.
“This is not about cool technology,” Toni Townes-Whitley, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector and Industry, said. “This is about regulatory work and increasing inclusiveness across the board.”
During her keynote, Townes-Whitley unveiled the company’s Smart Cities for All initiative, which seeks to empower disabled persons by making today’s digital environments more accessible. We’ll be covering this initiative and Microsoft’s other big reveals later this week.
The topic of accessibility extended beyond Microsoft, though. Panelists on the “Open Minds, Open Data” forum all agreed that open data works best when all citizens are empowered to use it. This includes releasing specific metrics that help non-data savvy citizens make use of the raw data at their disposal. Another example, this one from New York’s Chief Analytics Officer Amen-Ra Mashariki, involves the city going out and engaging citizens who specifically weren’t using open data.
“Portals can’t be built for advanced users alone,” Mashariki said. “They need to be accessible to the non-technical user.”
For more insights and takes from the show, feel free to comb through the social media posts from the attendees on the timeline below.