San Francisco's Tall Order

Market StreetNow you’ve seen the official announcement for Living Labs Global’s Award for 2012.  Twenty cities will pick twenty solutions to pilot locally in a scheme to benefit both cities and companies.  Broadly speaking, the cities we’ve partnered with in this award round are concerned with six large topics: energy, health, housing, sustainability, tourism, and transportation.

While there are reasons to be cautious about public-private partnerships like those we promote through the award, the overwhelming sentiment today is that these sorts of relationships are fundamental to the success of innovation in cities.  In a recent interview, San Francisco mayoral candidate Phil Ting said,

"Using Web 2.0 tools, Sunshine (Ordinance information) requests and a little old-fashioned incentive-based marketing, we were able to do in less than two months and for just $1,000 what it would have taken City Hall two years and millions of dollars to accomplish."

In today’s economic environment, these relationships are crucial.  San Francisco is one of our partner cities this round; they are looking for new solutions to use its street light poles for integrated, expandable wireless monitoring and controls to consolidate the city’s wireless systems.  This comes on the heels of an announcement that the city will provide free wifi along the Market Street corridor, an area of the city that has received a lot of attention lately as the focus of an economic stimulation and transportation improvement project.

The solution San Francisco seeks, though, goes beyond leveraging street poles as wifi infrastructure.  They want a comprehensive solution to the provision of many urban services – street light control, electric vehicle charging, parking monitoring, and the promotion of public safety and energy efficiency – by leveraging the public infrastructure already in place.

Lessons could be taken from Barcelona’s 22@Urban Lab project, which has implemented smart street lights, utility monitoring, and several other sustainability-focused projects.  No one solution has yet been comprehensive, though.

Further, while a recent student suggests more than 2/3rds of electric vehicle charging equipment will be sold and used by individual households, citizens of San Francisco (and other large cities) face the challenge of access to charging stations at home.  In California, Assembly Bill 631 was recently passed, which vows to “provide market certainty” for the infrastructure that is needed to support a consumer fleet of electric vehicles.  Therefore, the company to pilot a solution here could open many opportunities for themselves throughout the state.

-          Terra Curtis