3 Insights from the Inclusive Smart Cities Summit

With the pressure of urbanization mounting around the world, it is crucial to discuss the future of smart cities and the need for inclusivity in innovation. On September 12th, WDCEP together with the PeaceTech Accelerator brought top leaders from around the world together to tackle challenges regarding the future of transportation, the workplace and workforce. For the Inclusive Smart Cities Summit, leaders and innovators descended into the US Institute of Peace’s PeaceTech Accelerator, affectionately referred to as the “Bat Cave,” and explored how cities such as Washington, DC are turning groundbreaking ideas into realities. Here are 3 insights regarding the future of inclusive smart cities.

WORKPLACES SHOULD SUPPORT MEANINGFUL COLLABORATION:

Inclusive Smart Cities Summit ©Allison Zaucha

As young professionals enter the workforce, they are becoming more sophisticated in their needs and wants. Our speakers agreed that creating a sense of place and positive culture in a workplace is critical. The future of the workplace should not just be tech enabled but also leverage technology to create positive culture and solve problems for employees. Many organizations are rising to the occasion and creating interesting spaces that foster meaning by driving innovative conversations, ones that will spark ideas that may extend beyond our city.

WeWork’s General Manager of the East, Dave McLaughlin emphasized that WeWork, which is a game-changer for workplaces, creates spaces where diverse people come together in a community that shares knowledge and networks. With exposed brick, tasteful artwork, and sound proof rooms, WeWork spaces are impeccably designed. They even offer cold brew on tap. One unique way WeWork creates connection for its members is through narrow hallways that force people to look up from their phones make eye contact and possibly engage in conversation. WeWork’s dynamic spaces demonstrates that work is becoming more collaborative, so people must interact in order to create new ideas. These innovations certainly support WeWork’s strongly held belief “better together.”

Randy Fiser, CEO of ASID, noted that spaces are built for human beings, so they need to be supportive and allow for collaboration. He is proud that ASID’s headquarters, which was the first space to earn LEED Platinum and WELL Platinum Certifications, was built using evidence based, human-centric design that promotes productivity in the workplace. Founder of FIN Digital Rakia Finley also believes in collaborative, creative spaces. FIN Digital recently transformed their office into an IoT Playground, which is outfitted with custom, problem solving technology. For instance, employees fill out daily timesheets at the touch of a button. As a way to keep the office technology meaningful, Rakia carefully selects what innovations to use and asks herself “what problem am I really solving with this tech?” Both of these innovators stress the fact that people allow themselves to be collaborative and inclusive once they are in an encouraging and nurturing environment.

Booz Allen Hamilton’s Principal of IoT. Initiative, Nyla Beth Gawel explained how the firm uses technology to overcome challenges. The firm created an Innovation Center, located at 15th & I or “15th & Ideas,” to solve tough challenges with technology and inspire people along the way. This space removes barriers and reflects Booz Allen Hamilton’s commitment to encouraging collaboration. Overall, workplaces of the future need to foster meaningful interactions between employees, so that companies can continue to innovate and inspire as they take on the future.

TRANSPORTATION TECH IS FOR EVERYONE:

Although commuters often complain about their daily trek to work, the District has never been easier to navigate with its walkable sidewalks, public transportation options, bike-share and ride-sharing services. At 18.3% of its workers commuting by bike or foot, DC leads the nation with alternative transportation, and this impressive feat has DC Council debating incentives to encourage more of this behavior.

Inclusive Smart Cities Summit ©Allison Zaucha

Innovation around transportation is incredibly important for creating an inclusive smart city because everyone needs transportation options, but not everyone can afford to own a car. Aaron Landry, General Manager of Car2Go, stressed that citizens need to let go of the transportation status quo where value comes from owning a car. Car2Go created an innovative “car-sharing” service, which allows travellers who don’t own a car to be able to drive where they want. Technology is making this possible. He also shared that cities need to embrace new ideas for driving, parking, curbside real estate, and encourage certain behaviors regarding how people commute to work.

Likewise, one of Rand Corporation’s Senior Policy Analysts, Liisa Ecola, discussed how we must utilize technological resources for the public in order to create an easier commuting experience. Public-private partnerships can help level the playing field and make technology accessible for all. Another organization helping people navigate complex changes in the city is CityFi. Gabe Klein, CityFi’s Founder, specifically focuses on making transportation intuitive for commuters, so their everyday routine is not a hassle.

The popular on ride-sharing service Lyft is truly lowering barriers to transportation. Years ago, no one would have gotten into a car with a stranger, and today this practice is second nature to most. Lauren Belive, Director of Federal Government Relations at Lyft, emphasized that everyone should have a reliable option for transport, no matter his or her location. Lyft, and other similar services, aim to extend that possibly limited area of transport by offering people the option to be driven that extra mile to reach the train and bus stations. This innovation provides immense economic empowerment for people who might feel discouraged about to getting to the office due to their modes of transportation.

WORKFORCE ECOSYSTEMS ARE EVOLVING AND MUST BE INCLUSIVE:

Our society is faster and more ambiguous than ever, which means that the workforce must gain new competencies. As the workforce ecosystem evolves, cities have a responsibility to make sure that no one is left behind. Changes must be made with inclusion and innovative at the forefront of decisions, so that society evolves together.

To deal with the uncertain future, Ken Eisner of Amazon Web Services mentioned that we must develop a deeper understanding of our world through project based learning. Additionally, he said that cities need to willingly acknowledge that their workforce ecosystem is falling behind and needs to improve. The private and public sectors must work together to build a stronger workforce for tomorrow.

Inclusive Smart Cities Summit ©Allison Zaucha

Lauren Gilchrist, Director of Pivotal Labs, emphasized that companies should grow their existing talent as well as take on new hires, who can also contribute to innovation. The changing nature of work can be unsettling for people, but Lauren noted that “you won’t know what your career is and that’s fine. Be on the cutting edge of cutting edge, and create things, don’t just be consumers.”

As professionals adjust to new roles, cities will need to stay ahead of the curve. Luckily, cities like DC are “labs for innovation and ideas,” as said by Andy Rabens, Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues at the U.S. Department of State. He mentioned that cities fluent in technology will be able to adapt and find the gaps in our society. Additionally, he emphasized that cities must put systems in place that provide equality of opportunity because “a person’s lottery of birth shouldn’t determine his or her path in life.” One organization filling the gaps in DC is WOMANIUM, which boosts inclusivity by supporting young women in STEM and entrepreneurship. Founder Prachi Vakharia noted that inclusion occurs when resources are made available to everyone, and that public-private partnerships can boost inclusion in our city. Overall, the workforce is changing faster than ever, but by coming together, an inclusive and adaptive workforce will be ready to take on the future.

The Inclusive Smart Cities Summit ended on several high notes. DC’s CTO Archana Vemulapalli emphasized that the success of the city depends on public-private partnerships and ongoing feedback from the community and key stakeholders at all levels. She and her team are working to make everything that happens with technology in DC more accessible and understandable for everyone. For instance, the DC Smart City Initiative aims to make DC a more resilient, sustainable place that is focused on equity and transparency for all.

In the coming weeks, there will be a major announcement about technology in the District, so stay tuned! The final panel consisted of leaders discussing the impactful buzzword “smart city” and how DC is becoming a tech leader. Erin Baumgartner, Assistant Director of MIT Senseable City Labs explained that the term “smart city” refers to the convergence of the physical and digital elements in our world. As DC begins to solve the toughest challenges in transportation, workforce and workplace, the city’s public and private leaders are constantly embracing new technology. It’s this collaboration that continues to make DC one of the smartest cities in the world.

Inclusive Smart Cities Summit ©Allison Zaucha

Thank you to the following demo companies: Starship Technologies, Riide, Imby, SwingSpace, TheCut, Ariva, TransitScreen, RETHINK Water, and companies within PeaceTech Accelerator’s second cohort.  We are inspired by your problem-solving innovations, and thrilled to watch you take the District (and world) by storm!

Thank you to our partners SEED SPOT, WeWork, Humble, as well as our media sponsor CityLab for supporting the Inclusive Smart Cities Summit.