Justin Bean

Can Cities Be Catalysts for Local Innovation?

Blog Post created by Justin Bean Employee on Jul 8, 2016

What if cities could enable companies, governments, and organizations to unleash their data for the entrepreneurs and developers that are dreaming up the next Ubers and new solutions to local challenges? 

The Lord Mayor of Copenhagen and Hitachi recently unveiled City Data Exchange,  along with Hitachi Insight Group, the company's newly announced Internet of Things (IoT) unit. Smart cities have for a long time hosted open data portals and hackathons to create solutions to local challenges. This has been a successful endeavor for increasing transparency, making data accessible, and bringing together their communities to rally around solving local challenges locally. The data that sits in the hands of governments is massive, but it is a fraction of the amount of data the private sector is gathering from IoT sensors, phones, and operations.   The city hopes that by unleashing these larger and more diverse sets of data, it can empower the local community to help achieve its 2025 sustainability goals.

The Vital Importance of Data Access

This is a substantial development in our approach to building smart cities for at least three key reasons:

Data Govt v Private.pnghttp://www.wired.com/insights/2014/07/data-new-oil-digital-economy/

  1. Data is the new oil: as the lifeblood of our digital economy, data plays a significant role in enabling new solutions that are smarter, more predictable, and better designed to fulfill their objectives. Improving access to more of it will facilitate more entrepreneurship and therefore economic growth.
  2. Democratizing innovation and local relevance: by enabling local communities to develop solutions, they will naturally seek to tackle local challenges. This approach does away with the cookie-cutter model of smart cities, and instead allows for distributed innovations to occur within the community that address the needs of those communities. This democratization of innovation not only speeds up the creation of solutions, it increases their relevance to the city, making cities more likely to be resilient, sustainable, and vibrant.
  3. Aligning financial interests: City Data Exchange allows businesses to monetize the data that they posses, providing a new revenue stream for companies and a financial incentive to share their data. All data must be anonymized and can be aggregated to eliminate privacy concerns, while still providing valuable data to the surrounding business, government, and organizational ecosystem.


This is a radically new approach to smart cities that leverages the 21st century trends of technological democratization, distributed capitalism and production, and ever-increasing sources of data from IoT and business operations. By enabling the local community to innovate faster and on a larger scale the community itself becomes more resilient in the face of the technological disruptions that are impacting our society today, and will impact us even more drastically in the future.

The City as Platform

How can cities leverage these technological advances to help their communities tackle the challenges of their time? Cities have long been essentially platforms for human life - they are the infrastructure platforms for resource distribution (water pipes and electric wires), transportation (roads and transit), and housing. By becoming a platform upon which businesses, communities, and organizations can develop, innovate, and provide value, cities are enabling the needs of the 21st century to be met.

Cities should also work closely with companies and organizations to spur innovation and encourage the creation of relevant solutions for their communities. Public private partnerships with not only companies and organizations, but with startup communities are essential. By facilitating data exchange in the digital world, and entrepreneurship in the real world, cities and organizations like City Digital in Chicago, Grand Central Tech in New York, TUMML in San Francisco, and Dallas Innovation Alliance in, you guessed it - Dallas, can provide entrepreneurs and innovators with the resources they need to be successful and thereby make their cities successful.

By enabling communities to share data, and by supporting new businesses and solutions, cities as a collection of stakeholders can achieve creative, relevant, and agile solutions that make cities as places and communities more vibrant, more sustainable, and more resilient. In the face of accelerating changes, this enables us as people to seize the opportunities that come with change and make the world a better place for us all.

Click here to learn more about City Data Exchange or Smart Cities.

What is your city and community doing to drive innovation for local sustainability, opportunity, and resilience?