The Makings of a Smart City

A curated crowd convened to strategize on how smart cities can "future-proof" communities and prepare for disruptive growth

More than just technological advancements, the future of work and relationships between cities and their citizenries were the entwined topics du jour Thursday, June 28 for the inaugural Denver Smart City Forum. As the community's innovation economy continues to swell and strengthen, 100 hand-picked attendees made up of local leaders and smart cities experts convened at McNichols Building Civic Center to discuss a variety of big ideas – from urban planning and policy to partnerships and investments – from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"The Smart City Forum came out of a desire to talk about what's real, what's working and what are the best practices to share and build from," said Emily Silverman, program manager of Denver Smart City, a multi-departmental effort. "There are so many passionate people from around Denver, Colorado and the nation that are focused on the work to deliver equitably smart solutions directly to those who need it the most. Driven by the spirit of collaboration, public and private partners who came together to develop a program around talent, policy and civic infrastructure.

To kick-off the all day affair, Erik Mitisek, president of Imagine Analytics with IMA Financial Group, the state of Colorado's chief innovation officers and the emcee for the smart city program told the crowd:

"People, not technology, will create smart cities."

Echoing that sentiment, Gov. John Hickenlooper, who capped off the programming, shared that "being a smart city is about more than trying out the latest technology … It's about leveraging the talent of our community, investing in foundational infrastructure and implementing smart policies that make us good partners across the private sector, nonprofits and academia."

Hickenlooper was joined by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Alastair Fitzpayne, executive director of The Aspen Institute's Future of Work Initiative, Megan Smith, the third U.S. Chief Technology Officer under President Barack Obama, and other experts to discuss how smart cities can "future-proof" Denver's growth.

Today, with more than 50 percent of the population living in urban areas of more than 1 million people, rapid change is upon us.

"When driverless cars cost less than a bus ticket, no one will ride a bus every again," said state Rep. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village. "For transit to survive," he contended, "we must adapt to and adopt driverless technology."

Multiple speakers throughout the day cited a May 2018 McKinsey study titled "Skill Shift Automation and the Future of the Workforce."

"Our ability to meet economic demands on our ability to create jobs," Fitzpayne said. He cautioned, "Cities are under-investing in our workers … and facing major challenges with advancing tech."

He added the scale and pace of change due to automation could be so dramatic as to impact 60 percent of existing occupations over the course of the next 12 years.

COO of Flatiron School Kristi Knaack Riodan spoke of "life-changing technology," that will help people in this society lead a better life." Flatiron School is a six-year-old coding bootcamp, recently acquired by WeWork, that prepares students to become software engineers and data scientists. Flatiron has also been able to provide schooling to underrepresented groups thanks to partnerships with various communities throughout the country.

"Through rapid skills training … [we can encourage people] to re-skill, retrain and do what you love," Knaack Riordan said.

She added the program intends to grow to include a Denver campus looking ahead. 

As an example of local projects already in-the-works, Silverman said later this year Denver will pilot a $1 million Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) technologies at the 29th Avenue and Federal Boulevard intersection to harness and relay data in ways that will improve transportation, reduce congestion and get people to their destinations quickly and safely.

"The intersection at 29th Avenue is a great place to focus our efforts, as it has been found to have the highest-need and opportunity for the DSRC technologies," Silverman said. 

She noted there are a variety of ways local businesses can participate in smart city efforts.

"Denver Smart City is always looking for partners," she says. "Denver Smart City has had the unique opportunity to install, understand and evaluate smart technologies in what we call 'living labs' to work with partners and businesses to rapidly test and evaluate a variety of new technologies."

In addition, the Colorado Smart City Alliance is designed to accelerate the development of Smart City initiatives across the state.

The conversation continues this September, the Colorado Technology Association will host the Colorado Smart Cities Symposium, to bring together civic-minded leaders and create a statewide initiative supporting connected communities.

Categories: Economy/Politics