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We’re in the midst of a technological revolution that is changing our lives faster than ever and in ways that we can’t even comprehend at this moment. While these technologies enable most of us to become more connected, there is a real risk that they can be a source of disconnection for others. Adopted and implemented correctly, smart city technologies have the capability to dramatically improve the quality of life in our communities, but to make this a reality for every citizen, innovators should always keep people front and center.

In August, I had the pleasure of hearing Joshua Edmonds, Detroit’s first director of digital inclusion, speak about the current state of digital equity in the city (in cities of 100,000 or more, Detroit is the least connected in the US). In his talk, he made a comment that struck a chord with me, he said “none of this would have been an issue if we had just cared more for others in the first place.” If we had just cared more for others. Pretty simple. Maybe it resonated with me because I have two young children and my conversations are frequently about kindness and caring and asking “now, was that a kind thing to do to your brother?” Caring more for others in the first place. As we reinvent our cities and communities with smart city technologies, my hope is that we place an emphasis on caring more for others in the first place.

At NextEnergy, we view a smart city as one that incorporates information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance the quality and performance of services such as energy, mobility and utilities in order to improve efficiencies, sustainability, safety and quality of life. Caring for people is at the heart of that view. The most desirable places to live deliver a higher quality of life for residents and visitors. A robust economy; safe, walkable neighborhoods with business and entertainment districts; clean air and water; accessible transportation, and smart, sustainable infrastructure are all a part of the mix. In building the smart cities of tomorrow, the challenges faced by our cities will be increasingly solved by our citizens, governments and industry working together in partnership.

Here at NextEnergy, that’s our sweet spot – forming public-private partnerships to advance technology solutions to create smarter, cleaner, more accessible communities and cities. We’re a proud partner to PlanetM on their Mobility Grant pilots, a program that has funded several demonstrations of new mobility technologies in Detroit and across Michigan. At NextEnergy, we see the greatest value of pilots as the ability to test and prove out new technologies in real world environments with real people.

While as an innovator, a pilot is likely focused on exploring these questions:

  • Who are the parties I need to bring together to implement?
  • What partnerships do I need to form?
  • Did it work, how did people use the tech, and whose problem did I solve?
  • What unanticipated outcomes did this create?
  • Do I have the business model right?
  • How can I provide access to more people, and how does this scale?

But from the perspective of a city or community, pilots provide the opportunity to explore how new solutions can better solve the challenges facing all residents. They’re a way to try something new to meet citizens’ needs without having to go all in on a newer, less-proven solution. This is where public-private partnerships can provide a path to remove the risk from smart city solutions pilots and accelerate adoption of technologies that can improve the quality of life for all.

NextEnergy has the experience and the talent to facilitate collaboration on pilots and demonstrations, whether they’re in the US, Michigan or right here at this campus, our team can help you transform your smart city ideas into scalable solutions that place people at the center, without sacrificing planet or profit.


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