Collective action for the greater good
When someone says the phrase “smart city” your mind may conjure up images of locations such as New York or San Francisco because, in general, a smart city is one that works to improve the quality of life for its citizens through technology – something these cities are known for.
But in the heart of the Sonoran desert, a group of futurists, thought-leaders, and educators have joined forces to form a consortium called The Connective, and they want to position Greater Phoenix at the top of the smart cities list. However, their vision goes beyond creating a smart city. They’re building the nation’s largest, most connected smart region—putting Greater Phoenix at the forefront of this latest trend. And to make it happen, they’re developing and deploying technology scalable solutions rooted in connectivity, mobility, equity, and sustainability.
The Greater Phoenix region is made up of over 22 different municipalities. The problems each municipality faces such as mobility, air quality, water, and energy efficiency, don't stop at a jurisdictional boundary. And as the digital infrastructure of each city and town grows, the need for collaboration becomes even more apparent. If there is a lack of communication between adjacent cities, transportation and tech can end up working against each other. A disconnected approach to smart city development could actually hinder overall progress.
The Connective was born as a response to the reality that the best thing for the future of Greater Phoenix is collaboration. Like-minded private citizens, industry leaders, public servants, and educators can partner together in sharing resources, ideas, and visions of what’s possible for the community.
Dominic Papa, Co-Founder of The Connective, describes the way it all started: “We thought to ourselves, what if we could get 22 cities to think together, act together, innovate together, then procure technology and infrastructure together? Could we create a smart region? Could we out-scale everyone that's focused on building smart cities?”
Diana Bowman, Associate Dean, Professor, and Co-Director of the Center for Smart Cities & Regions at Arizona State University states, “What we're looking to do in addition to improving water quality, air quality, energy consumption, is have citizens interact with the public sector in an easier and more efficient way, allowing them to use the resources of the city in a way that actually makes sense to them. This is about asking communities what their biggest challenges are, and then working backwards, using what we already have in terms of technologies or solutions, or figuring out what we need to co-develop solutions and then working in partnership to build them.”
Looking at climate challenges or health-related challenges that communities are facing today, Bowman acknowledges that it’s just not effective to work in silos. “We need to learn from each other and be able to operate individual pilots and then cross-reference them so we can all benefit simultaneously,” she says. “That way it's not just one city making a decision around their infrastructure needs, it’s a coordination across the cities and the counties, and that way we can really look at where the needs are on a far more equitable basis.”
A major challenge for cities across the country is digital equity and digital inclusion. Many cities try to solve a digital divide by themselves only to find that it’s very expensive, slow, and unscalable.
Papa notes that when cities come together to provide digital solutions, such as tech support, across an entire region, it becomes much more affordable. And an area like Phoenix has the potential to provide digital service to communities across the region’s large and small cities.
In an effort to solve digital equity at scale, The Connective is helping establish a Digital Equity Institute that will help provide digital equity innovation as a service for communities across Greater Phoenix.
Papa explains, “With the Digital Equity Institute not only will we be able to connect unconnected and underserved communities, but we will also be able to provide them with working laptops and digital literacy skill training. These are skills necessary for students and adults to understand how to efficiently and effectively participate in the online world. Lastly, we'll provide a tech support system. So, no matter where you are, whether it's Wickenburg or downtown Phoenix, you can pick up the phone and get support for technical issues you're facing. It’s a first-of-its-kind systems-based approach and a holistic approach to solving the digital divide in greater Phoenix. And one that we think will scale, not only across Arizona but hopefully across the entire world.”
The Connective also considers how digital equity affects an individual's mobility, both economically and physically. They think about how people access economic centers or health care. They’ve seen first-hand how taking a systems-based approach helps frame the extent of the base challenge but also exposes some of the unintended consequences as well.
Since The Connective began, it has been instrumental in helping partners throughout Greater Phoenix adopt and scale solutions in a number of key areas:
The possibilities for innovation are endless as Phoenix continues to grow and adapt, but Papa has big dreams for what is possible through Smart region innovation: “Imagine a future where instead of having to deliver an organ through traffic and congestion to a hospital, in order to save someone's life, you can put that organ onto a drone and quickly and rapidly deliver that organ just in time to a hospital to help save someone's life. These are the sorts of innovations I think The Connective will help bring to life through its collective model.”
Lev Gonick, Chief Information Officer at ASU, describes the opportunity as one of local specializations and shared impact: “How do we actually create an integrated vision and an execution plan that would allow one community to focus on smart health, while another works on smart environmental planning, and another works on smart education, and then shares the best practices with each other?”
To Gonick, that would be the most efficient way to optimize the regional resources already at play.
“A smart region is not an end state,” says Papa. “We're not going to wake up one morning and say, oh, we're smart. No, it's a process. It's a journey. A smart region is one that is continuously learning and growing and innovating together collectively across sectors to solve challenges that we face in our day-to-day life. It's about people. It has to start with the people.
To learn how you can get involved with The Connective visit greaterphxconnective.com.