Dynamic street management, city airspace, and capturing the value of municipal infrastructure

By Jessie Feller Hahn

Jessie Feller Hahn is the Executive Director of Meeting of the Minds. She is an experienced urban planner, specializing in urban-regional policy with a particular focus on sustainability and clean energy. Previously, Jessie launched the successful Regional Energy Policy Program at Regional Plan Association in New York City. She has written numerous articles which have been featured in RPA’s Spotlight on the Region, The Hartford Courant, Urban Age Magazine, The Record, NPR, among others.

I spoke last week with Hugh Martin, Chairman & CEO at Lacuna Technologies. My three key take-aways from this 8-min video:

  1. The hand-wringing over whether streets temporarily closed to vehicle traffic during COVID-19 should be permanently closed or not is unnecessary. Technology could allow us to dynamically manage our streets in the way Hugh describes.
  2. Before we take the next step with drone delivery, cities and the FAA need to come to a conclusion on who controls, and in what manner, the airspace above cities.
  3. Private mobility operators are benefitting (sometimes even with profit!) by the free use of public infrastructure assets like streets (and, one day, air). These assets are built and maintained with tax dollars, but if they are ending up on the assets ledger of private companies, it stands to reason that cities could conceivably capture some of that value for their own revenues. If we can figure out #1 and #2, then we could figure out #3.

Interestingly, my recent conversations with people have often drifted toward innovative revenue generators for cities – new solutions that might help them dig their way out of the budget shortfalls we’re all about to experience. I think smart city technology has turned the corner (well…many corners, over the years) from creating internal efficiencies in municipal services to creating revenue from municipal assets.

Revenue generation is always a stronger pitch than efficiency, and it’s coming as the right time. But in the post-COVID world we’ll have the same three challenges we had in the pre-COVID world:

  1. Privacy
  2. Privacy
  3. Privacy

As always, moving forward with these amazing tech solutions for cities will hinge on resolving privacy concerns, not just technically, but perceptually, too.

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