Boston Is Emerging as a Center for Mobility Innovation
It goes without saying that mobility – the movement of people and goods – is an incredibly hot space. Start-ups are cropping up across the entire value chain as significant capital is deployed by incumbent strategic investors, mobility-specific funds like Fontinalis and BMW iVentures, as well as general tech funds looking to get in on the action. While headlines debate whether the nucleus of mobility innovation is Silicon Valley or Detroit, Boston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has not only churned out an impressive array of start-ups but has also attracted established businesses seeking innovation and research talent. The included graphic primarily highlights the mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) players, representing a snapshot of the businesses that are solidifying Boston as a driving force in the mobility space generally.
The region’s strengths as a mobility player are arguably under the radar. Recently, Héctor Naves Sordo visited Boston to investigate the local scene on behalf of Swiss Re, a large re-insurance company that set up a local presence in 2016. Héctor shared his astonishment at the depth and breadth of the ecosystem, “I came to Boston to explore the AVs and IoT technology landscape and was blown away. We hear so much about Silicon Valley as a hub of innovation. It was energizing to discover an East Coast counterpart that is exploring the future of mobility, connected cars and AVs, topics that Swiss Re is monitoring closely as they will impact motor insurance and society in general.” Boston’s own insurance behemoth, Liberty Mutual, also has a group dedicated to future mobility and recently released an open API portal that combines public transportation data with proprietary insurance knowledge to power new products.
Local investors are engaging as well – some have been doing so for several years. Chris Cheever, who leads the Boston office of Fontinalis Partners, a mobility-focused venture capital firm says, “The talent pool here – both academic and entrepreneurial – provides fertile ground for the kind of innovation that is going to take mobility into the next generation and beyond. We recognized this early on, which is why we established our firm with both Boston and Detroit offices in 2009. We’re seeing more investors scouring Boston for mobility opportunities. Of our current portfolio of companies, approximately 25% are headquartered or originated in the Boston area, and as much as 50% have significant operational presence here. It really is a tremendous environment for mobility startups.”
The Boston Mobility Roundtable, an informal coalition of regional private sector companies, came together in late 2016 to support regional visibility and growth opportunities with respect to mobility. Recently, public sector officials from the MBTA, City of Boston, MassDOT and MassPort joined the Mobility Roundtable for an open discussion on the best ways to connect and collaborate. Kris Carter, Co-Chair of the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics said, “We are fortunate to have such a thriving innovation ecosystem in Boston, and we see our role as a champion for the sector and key collaborator in helping unlock new opportunities for the people of Boston. Whether that is providing consultation, test beds, or pilot program opportunities, it’s critical to work cooperatively in providing new mobility choices in an equitable way across the city.”
While transportation programs, infrastructure and norms are largely regional, transportation challenges are universal. Localizing innovative new mobility thinking or concepts for a city’s particular needs can create a ripple effect that expands our collective thinking. Already, mobility enthusiasts from Austin, Washington, DC, Silicon Valley and Detroit have been hand raisers to collaborate with Boston area efforts. Sharing solutions and learnings from programs conducted here (or carried out by Boston-based companies elsewhere) is just one way that Boston can continue to solidify its reputation as a center for mobility innovation.
On June 20, 2017, one hundred and twenty mobility leaders will convene in Cambridge, Massachusetts to discuss the future of mobility in the Boston region at the Boston Mobility Summit. This summit aims to harness the ingenuity and innovation already underway in the Commonwealth as well as the expertise of invited global thought leaders with best practices directly applicable to Boston’s challenges.
This day-long leadership summit will bring together C-suite executives from the private sector and public sector, non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs and academics to share local and global best practices applicable to the Boston region. The focus will be on transformative new technologies, policies, financing mechanisms, design and collaboration models with a particular focus on low-carbon and equitable solutions.
If you are interested in attending this invite-only summit, please fill out this application: http://cityminded.org/boston-application.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
The blockchain could be the missing link that brings consumers, businesses, and investors together on climate change. Built for peer to peer collaboration around shared, yet immutable ledgers, it lets us account for carbon emissions and transfer verifiable climate action through the supply chain.
Blockchain allows calculated emissions from each business to be tokenized and passed through to its supply chain partners to use in their emissions calculations. For example, a token could be issued based on the dollar amount, unit quantity, or volume of the company’s products. This would allow emissions calculations to be passed through the supply chain, so that the effects of a company’s emissions reductions and climate actions would be transparent.
This paper describes the immediate and possible future impacts of COVID-19 on planning in the Greater Vancouver area.
The first part introduces three initiatives, launched in 2019, to refresh city and regional plans. The second part identifies new challenges for plans to address and initial responses to COVID. The paper concludes with transferable observations on reframing plan making in the context of COVID and fiscal constraints.
Included are four planning steps that combine inspirational objectives for economic and equitable recovery, with aspirational plans for longer term resiliency, and offer actionable programs to move forward in the context of available resources.
The pandemic has fundamentally changed our perception of how we can live, work, and move. We’ve figured out how to get goods and services without jumping in the car. We’ve learned that all sorts of jobs can be done from home offices. And we’ve learned that people like, and want, to walk and bike as part of their daily journey. Cleaner air, quieter neighborhoods, and healthier residents can be among the positive outcomes of the crisis for cities that were on their heels with traffic and congestion before. Smarter mobility can help retain these benefits.
Advanced communications networks pave the way for data mining and real-time crowdsourcing across social media platforms. For example, StreetLight Data, based in San Francisco, combines Big Data with transportation knowledge to enable smarter mobility. In Columbus, Ohio, the company has identified a link between transportation issues and infant mortality rates, noting that low-income neighborhoods often do not have easy access to health care facilities, and by using transportation data, the city can increase accessibility and reduce mortality rates.
Noting that house prices have been growing three times faster than incomes in the last two decades, OECD found that “housing has been the main driver of rising middle-class expenditure.” Moreover, OECD noted that the largest housing cost increases are in home ownership, not rents.
Housing largely determines the cost of living. For example, in the United States, more than 85% of the higher cost of living in the most expensive US metropolitan areas is in housing. Fundamentally, housing affordability is not about house prices; it is about house prices in relation to household incomes. Housing affordability cannot be assessed without metrics that include both prices and incomes.
OurStreets origins are rooted in capturing latent sentiment on social media and converting it to standardized data. It all started in July 2018, when OurStreets co-founder, Daniel Schep, was inspired by the #bikeDC community tweeting photos of cars blocking bike lanes, and built the @HowsMyDrivingDC Twitter bot. The bot used license plate info to produce a screenshot of the vehicle’s outstanding citations from the DC DMV website.
Fast forward to March 2020, and D.C. Department of Public Works asking if we could repurpose OurStreets to crowdsource the availability of essential supplies during the COVID-19 crisis. Knowing how quickly we needed to move in order to be effective, we set out to make a new OurStreets functionality viable nationwide.
The best nature-based solutions on urban industrial lands are those that are part of a corporate citizenship or conservation strategy like DTE’s or Phillips66. By integrating efforts such as tree plantings, restorations, or pollinator gardens into a larger strategy, companies begin to mainstream biodiversity into their operations. When they crosswalk the effort to other CSR goals like employee engagement, community relations, and/or workforce development, like the CommuniTree initiative, the projects become more resilient.
Air quality in urban residential communities near industrial facilities will not be improved by nature alone. But nature can contribute to the solution, and while doing so, bring benefits including recreation, education, and an increased sense of community pride. As one tool to combat disparate societal outcomes, nature is accessible, affordable and has few, if any, downsides.
I spoke last week to Adrian Benepe, former commissioner for the NYC Parks Department and currently the Senior Vice President and Director of National Programs at The Trust for Public Land.
We discussed a lot of things – the increased use of parks in the era of COVID-19, the role parks have historically played – and currently play – in citizens’ first amendment right to free speech and protests, access & equity for underserved communities, the coming budget shortfalls and how they might play out in park systems.
I wanted to pull out the discussion we had about funding for parks and share Adrian’s thoughts with all of you, as I think it will be most timely and valuable as we move forward with new budgets and new realities.
There is a risk of further widening the gap between so-called ‘knowledge workers’ able to do their jobs remotely and afford to move, and those with place-based employment who cannot. Beyond that, retreating residents might take the very identity and uniqueness of the places they abandon with them.
Nurturing the community-resident bond could be an antidote to these dismaying departures, and new research sheds light on how. A recent report by the Urban Institute and commissioned by the Knight Foundation surveyed 11,000 residents of 26 U.S. metro areas to uncover what amenities created a “sense of attachment and connection to their city or community.” Three key recommendations emerged in Smart Cities Dive’s synopsis of the results.
What is the Role of Chief Resilience Officers in Responding to COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter Protests?
I spoke recently with Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy about his work with Resiliency Officers around the world through the Global Resilient Cities Network. My four takeaways from this 9-minute video:
- As Stewart says, COVID-19 “ripped the bandaid off” to show the weaknesses and frailties of our cities and towns. Chief Resiliency Officers (CROs) around the world are well positioned to assist Mayors in mitigating/recovering from Covid-19 and responding to the protests and civil unrest across our cities.
- Their interdisciplinary, holistic role is exactly what’s needed right now as we tackle the enormous task(s) currently at play in cities throughout the world. Not surprisingly, cities, and even states, are creating more resiliency officer positions. Louisiana, for example, has recently created a State Resiliency Officer position.
- Resiliency’s baked-in focus on equity and racial justice sets up resiliency officers to quickly engage and assist Mayors offices as they respond to the protests and call for racial justice.
- Resiliency officers are seeking to expand their network to engage with leaders (across sectors) focused on this work through the new Cities for Resiliency Recovery network. More information is here.
Laetitia Dablanc is a Director of Research at the University Gustave Eiffel/IFSTTAR and a member of MetroFreight, a VREF Center of excellence in urban freight research. I spoke to her recently about lessons learned from the COVID-19 lockdown in Paris.
My take aways from this 6-min video:
- She estimates that the lockdown resulted in a 30% reduction in VMT, but the effect were not lasting. Traffic is already back to pre-lockdown levels in Paris.
- The Parisian government rapidly deployed improvements in data management, traffic enforcement, bicycle lanes, and the subsidy for companies acquiring electric vehicles has been doubled – all in the last few months.
- The demand for bicycle delivery services (UberEats, etc.) has led to an expansion of gig-based jobs in this sector (and increased use of those new bike lanes!). Laetitia thinks freight companies have an opportunity here to attract these part-time, temporary workers to be full-time, longterm workers in freight if the right training programs can be established.
My take-aways from this interview:
- The world swapped commercial real estate for residential real estate overnight, and as Robert says, our homes are now our castles. The ripple effects this will bring to the workplace and the real estate economy will be far spread and difficult to unwind once the pandemic is resolved. This is a pivotal moment for digital connectivity – Robert calls it the “big bang moment for online.”
- Among the many problems commercial real estate has right now – elevators are definitely one of them. Robert describes this is ways I hadn’t thought of, and I don’t look forward to.
- Business travel will lose its cool – which could be a net benefit for climate change, but will require business development teams and convening organizations (ahem…like ours…ahem) to recalibrate our business models and not just for the short term.