Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
Shaping Tomorrow’s Cities Through Technology
As a native New Yorker, you learn to trust your gut. I’ve spent the last 10 years in New York City working with founders, investors, corporates, policymakers, and academics to build a cluster of companies making cities better: more efficient, resilient and liveable. My gut says we’re nearing an inflection point as new capital structures emerge, corporate citizens get more active and distributed technology shifts are accelerating. Today, more important and disruptive technologies are being commercialized than they were 10 years ago. We’re moving from imagination to impact.
Urban-X by MINI and HAX is a milestone in this shift, assisting companies with designing and launching products and services that improve life in cities and address the challenges of increasingly dense urban areas. Headquartered in New York, it provides even more reason to love this city.
New York is ripe for innovation: it is now the second most active startup market in the world, and it is bursting at the seams with a diversity of creative talent. Not only is New York emblematic of the shift to urban centers, it is committed to improving the quality of life of its citizens through technology. This commitment is more important today than ever before. Consider the following:
- One hundred years ago, about 20 percent of the global population was urban.
- Today we’ve hit 54 percent and projections from the UN show this number rising to two-thirds by 2050.
- In the process we will add a staggering 2.5 billion new urban residents to the planet.
- Imagine one million people joining cities each week.
The challenges of New York City today and tomorrow are significant: aging buildings, transportation, energy, waste, and water infrastructure that is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. But, these city-scale problems are not just New York issues, they are issues for cities around the world. They are the ones that Urban-X has been created to help address, and we are singularly focused on educating, investing in, and advocating for startups aiming to create a better future for cities. We need the best minds to solve the hardest challenges around equitable access to good food, housing, education, and public safety. We need these minds to help design the future, as the companies in our first cohort are doing:
- Brooklyness: has designed the world’s most intelligent bike helmet, and makes riding safer by increasing environmental awareness and visibility; @brooklyness1
- Buzzware: is creating a supercharging network for commercial drones, Buzzware.co
- CTY:builds sensors and software that create data insights and analytics from streets @heycty
- Farmshelf: creates smart hydroponic farms for urban environments, @farmshelfco
- MindRider: maps mental experiences as you move in order to identify geographic sweet spots and pain points, @mindriderhelmet
- nello: is an upgrade solution for intercom systems that enables keyless access to buildings and connects your home to the service economy, @locumilabs
- Industrial/Organic: applies industrial fermentation techniques to process organic waste faster, with lower emissions and odor, than existing landfill alternatives, industrialorganic.co
- SAMOCAT: is the lightest and the most compact public transportation sharing system, @SamocatSharing
- stae: provides municipalities with tools that enable 21st century compliance, taxation and procurement @staehere
We are at a key moment in history, and as a society, we need to seek out founders building technology that underlies smart and connected communities; companies providing advanced networking and connectivity; last mile mobility solutions, sensing, informatics and real-time data analytics, and control, automation and decision-making for building and food systems. At Urban-X, our job is to help founders get to product-market fit, and to help transition these technologies to widespread use, building scaleable repeatable business models in parallel with agile technology development.
However, hardware and software may not be sufficient on its own to provide the urban future we want and need. We also need innovation in institutions that can deliver clean and safe mobility, energy, food, water, and waste remediation to large numbers of people in our cities.
How we organize our systems needs to change, and in New York City, that change is happening today in the offices of regulators, utilities, and city and state policymakers. A wave of new thinking from government policy makers and new public-private partnerships will expedite these changes; as we’re seeing with the ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ regulatory proceeding in New York (where I spent the last two years working on utility business model innovation). Forward thinking policies around transportation, food waste, and real estate can move markets. By 2020, cities around the world are expected to spend $20 billion on sensor technology, according to Navigant Research. Emerging privacy, security, and liability issues in this new urban economy will require a multi-disciplinary lens to create a future that delights and surprises customers and provides an accessible and equitable value proposition for all our cities residents. Today, organizations that were created in the days of the telegraph are finally getting smartphone ready. Better policy integration will deliver benefits to all city-dwellers. And there is no time to waste.
In a time rife with ‘innovation theater’, we don’t shy away from hard work. And because I love working on hard problems I’m thrilled to start this new role as Managing Director at Urban-X. There is huge promise in this mission driven joint venture between SOSV, a $250M accelerator venture fund with a proven track record and MINI, a world renowned leader in design, engineering and technology and one of the most respected urban brands in the world. This partnership is grounded in a shared belief that cities will continue to be the epicenter of human progress and creativity – that cities will evolve as multi-modal transportation options proliferate – that newly emerging city models will demand products and services built for and around it.
Distributed energy, distributed food, intelligent buildings, advanced waste management – all these elements of the low-carbon stack – represents a $17 trillion opportunity worldwide. That excites us. Modernization of city services via new technology has deep implications for investment and risk; fortunes will be made and lost as this paradigm shift plays out over the coming years. As Parag Khanna says in his new book on megacities, “The future always comes faster than we expect.”
The application period for the second cohort is open and the deadline for submitting applications is September 6, 2016. Startups, entrepreneurs and designers can apply by visiting Urban-X.com.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.