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

 
 

Activate is planting its roots in Houston with a plan to have its first set of fellows next year. Photo via Getty Images

An organization that directs support to scientists developing impactful technology has decided on Houston for its fifth program.

Activate was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products. The nonprofit expanded its programs to Boston and New York before launching a virtual fellowship program — Activate Anywhere, which is for scientists 50 or more miles outside one of the three hubs.

"Our mission is to empower scientists to reinvent the world by bringing their research to market," Aimee Rose, executive managing director of Activate, tells InnovationMap. "There's so much technical talent that we educate in this country every year and so many amazing inventions that happen, that combining the two, which is the sort of inventor/entrepreneur, and giving them the support mechanisms they need to get on their feet and be successful, has the potential to unlock an incredible amount of value for the country, for the environment, and to address other social problems."

This year, Activate is planting seeds in Houston to grow a presence locally and have its first set of fellows in 2024. While Activate is industry agnostic, Rose says a big draw from Houston is the ability to impact the future of energy.

"We're super excited about Houston as an emerging ecosystem for the clean energy transition as being the energy capital of the world, as well as all the other emerging players there are across the landscape in Houston," Rose says. "I think we can move the needle in Houston because of our national footprint."

The first order of business, Rose says, is hiring a managing director for Activate Houston. The job, which is posted online, is suited for an individual who has already developed a hardtech business and has experience and connections within Houston's innovation ecosystem.

"We want to customize the program so that it makes the most sense for the community," Rose says about the position. "So, somebody that has the relationships and the knowledge of the ecosystem to be able to do that and somebody that's kind of a mentor at heart."

The program is for early-stage founders — who have raised less than $2 million in funding — working on high-impact technology. Rose explains that Activate has seen a number of microelectronics and new materials companies go through the program, and, while medical innovation is impactful, Activate doesn't focus on pharmaceutical or therapeutic industries since there are existing pathways for those products.

Ultimately, Activate is seeking innovators whose technologies fall through the cracks of existing innovation infrastructure.

"Not every business fits into the venture capital model in terms of what investors would expect to be eventual outcomes, but these these types of businesses can still have significant impact and make the world a better place," Rose says, explaining how Activate is different from an incubator or accelerator. "As opposed as compared to a traditional incubator, this is a very high touch program. You get a living stipend so you can take a big business technical risk without a personal risk. We give you a lot of hands on support and mentoring."

Each of the programs selects 10 fellows that join the program for two years. The fellows receive a living stipend, connections from Activate's robust network of mentors, and access to a curriculum specific to the program.

Since its inception, Activate has supported 104 companies and around 146 entrepreneurs associated with those companies. With the addition of Houston, Activate will be able to back 50 individuals a year.

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