Feds: Smart cities don’t have to go it alone

Thu, 2015-09-17 18:11 -- Kevin Ebi

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (far left) talks about the federal role in smart cities with Dan Correa of the White House, Chris Greer of NIST and Kathleen Hogan of the Department of Energy.

Transforming a city can seem like a daunting task, but between new aid from the White House and existing initiatives from several federal agencies, more help than ever is available.

Several experts told a Smart Cities Week audience that it’s truly an exciting time. And cities do not need to feel overwhelmed.

Rep. Issa"The fact is, it is an unlimited time of possibilities," said U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). Showing the audience the smart watch on his wrist, Issa said we are already heading in a direction that cities simply need to leverage -- with millions of products already working in a city.

Seek out partnerships
The key to making the transformation reality is to first start by seeking out partners so you don’t have to go it alone.

“You can’t be the Lone Ranger on these things,” said Ray LaHood, senior policy advisor at DLA Piper and former Secretary of Transportation. “First, there are not enough resources. Second, when you do partner, you can access the most experience possible.”

Federal government makes big investment
The White House kicked off Smart Cities Week with a sweeping $160 million dollar initiative that targets research and technology collaborations to help communities tackle key challenges efficiently and effectively.

“That money is going to be critical for taking the steps that we need to take in the future to be more effectively coordinate,” said Dan Correa, senior policy advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology. “It provides a front door for cities.”

Cities still take the lead
While the federal government is making a significant investment in smart cities, the investment does not mean that it’s taking a top-down approach to managing the initiative. Rather, its approach is the opposite.

“The federal role is about listening to the community,” said Chris Greer, senior executive for Cyber Physical Systems in the NIST Engineering Laboratory. “The leadership is in the community. Our prejudice is to listen to the community and follow their goals.”

And that, he says, means the most important people are the people who live in those communities.

“It’s not about cool technology,” Greer said. “It’s really about how those technologies benefit the residents of their community in a tangible way that residents can actually perceive.”

Standardization and flexibility matter
Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy, says her agency is working to make buildings more energy efficient. Given that they use two-thirds of the energy in the country, there’s tremendous opportunity to do better and deliver improvements that will truly make a difference.

But she advocated a coordinated approach. Data standardization, in particular, is critical. The country won’t realize the maximum benefit if every community is measuring and tracking their results differently.

Hogan believes her agency’s initiatives could result in $7 billion in annual benefit to the economy within 10 years, but it’s not about simply hitting that goal.

“How you get there is really important,” she said. “What we are focused on is creating a flexible platform that can continue to enable innovation and empower consumers.”

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