“Urban Tech,” a relatively new bold idea, is the budding sector of innovation that make cities and urban areas livable, efficient, and connected. Even though it is a still-emerging field, even major companies are pitching in to make cities all over America more exciting to live in. Using a blend of bold ideas from both private entrepreneurship and the community itself, urban tech helps unleash a city’s creative energy and potential.
Many experts and tech leaders are already anticipating how the people of tomorrow will live. With the world rapidly urbanizing, it is predicted that 70% of the world’s population – over 6 billion people – will live in cities within the next three decades. In fact, about 1 million people are already moving to urban centers every week, which is an equivalent of an entire medium-sized city.
For centuries, cities have powered the world economy, and that is still an ongoing trend. Large cities are expected to generate about 86% of the worldwide GDP growth between 2015 to 2030.
The Role of Technology in Urbanization
Because of the many aspects this type of urbanization affects, including infrastructure and business, soon enough it will sweep the technology industry – with technology in itself as the means to an end instead of the end itself. It is a fact that over half of the world’s total population reside in cities, and that is expected to rise to 66% by the year 2050. What’s more, in most regions around the world, a whopping 80% to 90% of people live in cities or moved to one. This mass migration can do one of two things: either it leads to cities bombarded with transportation, water, and housing issues, or to a more promising future that is properly planned and funded.
This explosive growth over the past few decades, even though it puts a lot of pressure on city infrastructure, is a positive pressure nonetheless. When people migrate into a city, they bring with them all the talent and creativity they have, regardless of what industry they are experts in. In fact, many of them are part of a group of smart, highly-educated, and creative class of people – people who bring a refreshing new outlook to city living. They collaborate and willingly share ideas to better their city living experience, and as such, amazing things happen to both the city and its people.
The urban tech movement seeks to build smarter cities – cities that overcome today’s challenges by proactively finding new solutions for real problems like transportation, water, energy, housing, public spaces, air quality, digital infrastructure, and construction. It’s a new way of thinking about city life, business, and the creative class. Urban tech is the art and technology that makes cities more exciting, stimulating, functional, and livable.
Major Infrastructure Overview
Infrastructure helps a city and nation be a stable foundation for everything that happens, so that positive and desirable outcomes can happen. It can be divided into two major groups: connectivity and resource distribution.
On one hand, connectivity is the field that focuses on bringing proximity to human interactions. This includes air, sea, and land, in the respective forms of aviation, ports, and roads as well as the public transport system. On the other hand, resource distribution is the infrastructure spanning the entire supply chain for a specific type of resource, including energy and water.
Cities often go hand-in-hand with a dense population, but using tech to optimize these cities makes these places livable and exciting to belong in. When creative minds enter a city and either create or contribute to an urban tech hub, their ideas turn into actions and tangible solutions to many problems affecting the community.
Many names are already helping the urban tech movement fall into place. Sidewalk Labs (an Alphabet, Inc. subsidiary), Urban Tech NYC, Dreamit, Gehl Institute, Civic Hall, Newlab, Urban-X Urban US, Future Labs, and Maker City, are just some of the names collaborating with countless others who are focused on creating an innovative, high-tech, and livable world for the current and future generations.
Examples of Urban Tech Already in Place
As previously mentioned, one of the fortunate things about massive population migration into cities is having a pool of talent and bold ideas. A collaboration between the public and private sectors, including Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) gets the best of both worlds, allowing such partnerships to solve the community’s day-to-day problems. Such issues include housing, transportation, energy, water, public spaces, and even air quality. Here are some examples of urban tech already in place, thanks to groundbreaking ideas and systems:
Connectivity includes not just communication, but also various forms of aviation, ports, roads, mass transit, and any other technology that allows people to interact and come into contact with one another.
- Ride hailing and ride sharing. Many popular apps like Uber, Lyft, and Via allow people to easily book rides and carpool for reasonable fees. As a bonus for saving money and time, they also help save on gas and emissions while easing traffic flow.
- Parking apps. Similar to the above in advantages, apps like BestParking and PrimoSpot show drivers the nearest available parking spot.
- Parking payment systems. Rather than paper receipts or time-limited parking meters that use physical coins, alternatives include paying for and adding money to a meter via an app such as PayByPhone.
- City guides. These obtain local information on museums, parks, landmarks, restaurants, public art, and real-time traffic. Apps like these help both tourists and citizens improve their experience in a city.
- Wi-Fi. On trains, subway stations help to provide updates on news, weather, local traffic, etc.
- Social media-based crisis response and emergency alert systems. Warnings and alerts regarding traffic accidents, weather events, and other potential emergencies can be delivered rapidly through social media systems.
- Bike-sharing. Cities like New York, Portland (Oregon), and Washington DC allow people to rent bikes using their credit or debit cards.
Resource distribution includes energy and drinking water, among many others. Here are some urban tech examples currently available in many smart cities:
- Open-data initiatives, Open-data initiatives, such as hackathons. Examples include BigApps, a New York City competition allowing people to create resource-saving apps that help improve the city including restaurant sanitation and building inspection scores, air quality, and even impending legislation that citizens need to be aware of.
- Pay As You Throw (PAYT) or trash metering. PAYT charges citizens a rate based on how much waste local authorities collect from them, allowing people to look for alternatives such as recycling and composting, to minimize waste.
- Energy-efficient and sustainable housing. Sites like BedandBreakfast.com focus on eco-friendly houses and B&B businesses, so guests are sure the place they’re staying in sustainable environments.
- Carbon monoxide detection. A number of people have unfortunately experienced carbon monoxide poisoning as it is an odorless gas, but technology has given birth to smart detectors similar to how smoke alarms work.
- Water-recycling systems. Some cities have public bathrooms which recycle tap water, either re-filtering them or using them for non-human consumption (such as watering plants).
Other Major Investments
Bold leaders and global businesses are recognizing the urbanization trend and dedicating significant resources to its cause:
- Tampa Water Street. Cascade Investment, LLC and Jeff Vinik have joined forces on a $3 billion project in Florida is the second-largest development project in the United States, and the first of its kind in North America.
- Belmont. Cascade Investment, LLC is investing in a new smart city in Arizona, called “Belmont.” They just bought 25,000 acres of land near Phoenix for $80 million. The tech and business magnate is visualizing a forward-thinking community supported by modern infrastructure, high-tech transport system with autonomous vehicles, and new manufacturing hubs for data centers.
- Sidewalk Toronto. Google’s parent company Alphabet plans to build a city in Toronto from the internet up. Alphabet’s urban innovation unit envisions cities based on sensors, unlimited broadband connectivity, and big data collection.
The new urban tech movement recognizes that something special is going on around the world. More startups joining the urban tech trend are also operating outside North America and Western Europe. In 2016, Venture Capital also invested $2.7 billion into urban tech in support of these startups. That number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. As urbanization grows, and entrepreneurs and technology accelerators like Dreamit focus on urban tech, magical things begin to happen. Companies like GiFly and Flower Turbines, LLC are funded and build revolutionary products. Problems get solved, entertainment and original experiences spring up on every corner, and education as well as health improve for everyone in the entire city.
The above are just a few examples of how urban tech affects cities today, and how cities should always look forward and ahead. Some of these technologies arose from previous problems, while some came in light of brilliant foresight. Either way, allowing urban tech to help improve a city affects not only its current residents, but allows future generations to experience these luxuries and add on to them as well.