Smart City PDX puts people first in data and technology investments

“Smart Cities” is a term that describes a global movement that brings together technology, data, and public infrastructure to address urban problems. Driven by innovation, cities across the globe are testing and preparing for an array of new technologies and uses of data, including Internet-connected sensors for data collection and improved asset management, autonomous vehicles, technologies to promote community engagement, and new methods for analyzing and sharing data.

Smart City PDX is the City of Portland’s approach to Smart Cities, where reducing inequities is the top priority. How? First, data and technology policies and projects must be focused on community identified needs and be responsive to Portlander’s changing needs and feedback. This type of collaboration in project design and evaluation should lead to measurable community benefits. Policies and projects must also focus on privacy protection. This approach to Smart Cities has evolved through our experiences over the past few years.

Portland’s experience with Smart Cities began in the beginning of 2015 with a small group of city government, university, and private sector representatives meeting and learning. Opportunities to join emerging national Smart Cities programs such as the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) Global Cities Team Challenge (GCTC) and the MetroLab Network helped this initial working group unite around a few initial projects rooted in how data and technology could be used to improve quality of life.

The GCTC is a collaborative platform led by NIST in the U.S. Department of Commerce to enable local governments, nonprofits, academic institutions, and private sector organizations to join in project teams and improve technology solutions. MetroLab Network is a group comprised of city-university partnerships focused on bridging data, analytics, and innovation to local government. Participation in these groups continues today and is an important avenue for us to exchange lessons learned with other cities.

The City of Portland’s smart city vision and project ideas were catapulted forward by the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) Smart City challenge in 2015-2016. Portland was one of the seven finalist cities for the $50 million prize with our proposal Ubiquitous Mobility for Portland led by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). The “UB Mobile PDX” proposal focused on increasing access to transportation choices and connecting mobility and infrastructure investments across the City. This strategy would bring better, cheaper, and more accessible mobility options to our underserved communities. The final honor of winning the challenge went to Columbus, Ohio. Prize or not, the Smart City Challenge proved more of a beginning than an end.

The UB Mobile PDX proposal provided an important framework for collaboration and coordination across partners in regional government, academia, private sector, and community organizations. This continues to provide a strong foundation for Smart City PDX. The proposal also gave a clear blueprint for acting on several transportation focused projects led by PBOT with the support of Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Since the Smart City Challenge we learned how to move from a reactionary state to a proactive one and Portland City Council established a centralized governance structure through the City of Portland Smart City Steering Committee. This coordination effort is led by the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) on behalf of the Mayor’s Office and PBOT, Office for Community Technology (OCT), and Bureau of Technology Services (BTS). A comprehensive, coordinated effort means we can expand data and technology projects beyond transportation and strategically evaluate opportunities that ensure data and technology investments do not further exacerbate inequities in our Portland community.

To read more details about Portland’s Smart City path, see this article from the 2017 International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) Review 13 Smart Communities annual publication.