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.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Read more from the CityMinded.org Blog
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
A recent study by the International Downtown Association reports that vibrant downtowns contain around 3% of citywide land, but contain 14% of all citywide retail and food and beverage businesses, and 35% of all hotel rooms. This results in $53 million in sales tax per square mile, compared to the citywide average of $5 million. Not to mention that downtown residential buildings also add to the tax base. In the 24 cities included in the study, residential growth in these downtowns outpaced the rest of the city by 400% between 2010 and 2016.
Partnerships between city officials and contractors result in new and visionary downtown destinations. Along with large vertical construction projects, there are opportunities for countless other projects, including parking structures, enhanced Wi-Fi, landscaping, pedestrian and biking paths, and traffic improvements.
Ordered city geometry that is built today is meaningless for energy cycles. Resilient networks contain inherent diversity and redundancy, with optimal cooperation among their subsystems, yet they avoid optimization (maximum efficiency) for any single process. They require continuous input of energy in order to function, with energy cycles running simultaneously on many different scales.
Short-term urban fixes only wish to perpetuate the extractive model of cities, not to correct its underlying long-term fragility!
TDM, when employed, works. TDM agencies around the country use a treasure’s trove of strategies to get people out of cars and onto trains, buses, and bikes, which is something that has to happen if we don’t want our roads to become unusable due to traffic and environmental congestion.
But one major problem with the practice of TDM is that it has had a hard time making the case that it is a cost-effective alternative or at least add-on to big infrastructure projects. It seems pretty obvious that teaching people, educating them, about how to use our systems will make those systems run more smoothly. But there has never been a great way to back up that assumption with hard numbers.
Public meeting-driven community engagement doesn’t produce equitable outcomes for communities. To get to an inclusive, fair outcome, the development & planning communities need to get more representative feedback from community members.
By addressing a variety of factors that add to pollution, cities can take a more comprehensive approach to mitigating the effects of climate change. For example, Earthjustice worked with the Los Angeles Electric Truck and Bus Coalition to convince Mayor Garcetti and the regional transit authority to commit to 100% zero-emission buses by 2030. The campaign brought together environmentalists, bus riders, and good job advocates who see the potential of an electrified future to clean the air, create high-quality jobs, and combat the threat of climate change.
The two most important points of the 2018 SAFE Vehicles Rule proposed (or preferred) alternative include: a cap on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and fuel economy requirements for passenger vehicles at 2020 standard (35.5 mpg) through MY 2026, and; a revocation of the California waiver to the 1975 Clean Air Act. Recently, EPA indicated they are considering “tweaking” the preferred GHG proposal, but appear to be committed to the revocation of the waiver for California—an action that will likely lead to a drawn-out legal battle between the administration and California.
Once LADWP acknowledged the skewed trends in solar participation, the utility began promoting its programs in lower-income communities and communities of color. These areas, which the State of California had designated as ‘disadvantaged’, were the same ones where LADWP’s data had shown little to no solar penetration. “LADWP prioritized solar infrastructure installations atop homes in those neighborhoods, enabling households to host solar power generation and earn money by selling excess electricity back to the grid.” But, even after focusing its efforts in underrepresented areas, LADWP staff saw that participation still trended toward homeowners who were, on the whole, wealthier and whiter.
Fortifying the urban wood economy in Baltimore and replicating success in other cities becomes easier with a national partner who is willing to buy wood from multiple locations and has a national level impact. One of the ways that we have begun scaling is through a partnership with Room & Board, a modern furniture and home decor retailer committed to sustainable practices and American craftsmanship. The company was intrigued by the story of the deconstructed wood and the social and environmental good it was enabling.
Access to capital is another critical component to scaling and replicating the urban wood economy. Our work has explored social impact investing through a partnership with Quantified Ventures. A popular form of social impact investing is called pay-for-success financing.
Elemental Excelerator was first established in Hawaii as a place-based, clean energy accelerator. Its model is reflective of the fact that the organization’s founding roots were laid upon a set of islands, and was designed to help people on those islands reach their fullest potential. Accordingly, Elemental centers in its work an ethos of deep respect for relationships and for the land, which are essential for anyone living or doing business in a small place inhabited by a small community of people and surrounded by water.
A large group of stakeholders in Austin worked together to make their city forest carbon program a reality. The City Office of Sustainability, the urban forest staff, the Department of Watersheds, the Climate Program Manager, and the local non-profit tree organization, TreeFolks, have begun a multi-year program to plant hundreds of miles of streams and rivers in the central Texas area. Their focus is on water quality, storm water reductions, flood control, carbon storage, and climate mitigation.
Post-industrial cities face a suite of interconnected problems. Reusing urban wood can be viewed as a systems solution to a complex problem – a means by which to begin to renew and revitalize lives and communities as well.
As the circular economy grows in Charlotte, our dependence on foreign imports would decrease and one area to benefit is local food production. From growing locally both traditionally and through aquaponics/hydroponics to the reuse of organic waste – this opportunity has the possibility of transforming the food culture in Charlotte to a more sustainable, healthy, and accessible system.