Guest column

Houston has what it takes to emerge as a smart city leader, expert says

Houston real estate expert shares why he thinks the city is prime for smart city tech and implementation. Photo via Getty Images

While Houston has long been known as the Energy Capital of the World, there’s no reason we, as a city, cannot hold more than one title. What if Houston could take on the title of Smartest City in the World?

There are many factors that create a smart city, and it is deeper than just implementing new smart technology – it is a city that better supports the lifestyles of its residents seamlessly and unobtrusively. To effectively understand what the needs of the community are and the right types of technologies to implement when urban planning, data collection and data security measures are vital.

The City of Houston has already begun to use data and emerging technology to improve the quality of life for citizens, share information with the public, drive economic growth, and build a more inclusive society. To be successful and provide enriching experiences for Houstonians, these updates must happen at the infrastructure level, working as an integrated system that can be continuously optimized.

In 2015, Houston adopted an Open Data policy to support data sharing efforts between the government, its citizens, businesses and researchers. In addition to this, our city has made strategic investments in artificial intelligence, the Cloud, the Edge, smart sensors, big data, and more. These investments are being bolstered by private companies and institutions, building on these technologies to tackle urban problems, identify better solutions and enact privacy protections. These companies, such as McCord, are helping execute the city’s vision around development, transportation, public safety and community engagement.

Houston already has a case study

Citizens also play an active role in building the future of Houston through their behaviors and consumption patterns.

Take Generation Park, one of the largest privately held commercial developments in the country, sitting on 4,200 contiguous acres in Northeast Houston. As this land continues to be built out, developers at McCord partnered with Bosch technologies to implement sensors and other smart technologies to better understand how visitors are utilizing the trails, parking and space. These insights will then help McCord recognize parking patterns or which areas of the trails are most heavily trafficked, allowing the company to make more informed decisions regarding maintenance and infrastructure updates, ultimately providing a better experience for their visitors.

The data can also be factored in when planning events for the community. McCord will be able to use the data collected to determine things like the optimal times, preferred days and the need for parking at Redemption Square.

But the data use doesn’t stop at just events - tenants can use it to determine when to expect the dinner rush and apply that to staffing, prepping, happy hour specials and ultimately, factor it into better servicing their customers. Those living at Redemption Square’s 255 Assay Luxury Apartments will also benefit as McCord uses data trends to optimize their curbside management practices to better accommodate rideshare and food delivery services.

The plans for Redemption Square and Generation Park continue to adapt as data is collected and visitor behavior better understood. The goal of this data collection is to make Generation Park a citizen-optimized environment via cutting-edge technology where residents, visitors, employees, and businesses will thrive while knowing that their privacy is not at risk.

The bottom line

Houston’s diversity, business-friendly environment, and workforce make it a prime candidate to become a smart city. Becoming smarter in our transportation, public safety, sustainability practices, and infrastructure will create a better future for Houstonians.

Creating secure, holistic systems that work and learn together is central to successful smart city infrastructure. Private and public organizations must work together to collect data, pivot plans when needed and implement the correct technologies to ensure that these efforts ultimately make Houston a better place to live.

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Ryan McCord is president of Houston-based McCord Development.

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Building Houston

 
 

Juliana Garaizar is now the chief development and investment officer at Greentown Labs, as well as continuing to be head of the Houston incubator. Image courtesy of Greentown

The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and has officially finished its transition into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it grows to more locations and a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is on the committee that's finding the new CEO. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role will include overseeing Greentown's new nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it was time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced its next location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.

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