Urban Innovation

CUI Newsletter, December 2018

December 20, 2018  • Center for Urban Innovation Newsletters

How can we harness technology to create inclusive and delightful cities?

As technology gets more sophisticated, its inner workings become more opaque.  The last few years have made plain some troubling aspects of new technologies and revealed how little people know about how their devices are using them.

The Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation has worked with city leaders and outside experts on questions of how cities understand, regulate, and procure new technologies.  Cities are eager to embrace new technologies but are increasingly aware of and worried about unintended consequences.  City leaders want to collaborate with peers in other cities to regulate and shape the market for new technologies, so that the tools meet the needs of residents rather than the ideas of companies that create them.  Cities are also creating their own values-based standards that new technologies should meet.  These three observations set the tone for our work this year and our plan for 2019.

At CityLab 2018, I sat down with two leaders at the forefront of the integration of technology and urban life, Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, and Dan Doctoroff, Founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs.  Ibargüen remarked, “Technology simply amplifies who we are.”  While technological innovations offer extraordinary tools to improve the quality of life and service delivery in cities, private, public, and philanthropic leaders alike will need to create new kinds of relationships and partnerships so that cities can be places of opportunity, ingenuity and delight.  Doctoroff noted, “At the end of the day, it’s not about the technology, it is all about the people, and finding a way forward, given all of the issues cities face today, to leverage technology and innovation to fundamentally improve quality of life across every single dimension.”

As we move into 2019, CUI will leverage our convening power to be a hub for developing values-led standards and programs to guide technology deployment in cities.  To start, we are exploring how cities might collaborate to set standards around publicly deployed Internet of Things devices, and working with technologists, procurement specialists, entrepreneurs, and other workforce development leaders to think about how to build equity into smart city procurement.

Digital technologies, artificial intelligence, and the cloud are as essential to the 21st century city as concrete and electricity were to the 20th century city.  The challenge around smart cities goes far beyond open data or civic tech.  City leaders are creating the template for opportunity right now through their choices around technology, and all the actors who care about the health of cities and the people who live in them need to see how their work connects and intersects with these technological choices.  The Center is here to support and connect this fast-growing ecosystem.

Best,
Jennifer Bradley

Executive Director
Center for Urban Innovation
The Aspen Institute