San Diego Calls on Local Innovators to Solve Urban Problems

A consortium of public and private stakeholders are rallying around three challenges: a path to smarter traffic management, access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and modeling future traffic congestion.

by Brittany Meiling, The San Diego Union-Tribune / April 3, 2019
San Diego, Calif. Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

(TNS) — The city of San Diego is soliciting locals for help solving urban problems, joining up with startup and business groups to hold a high-tech brainstorm session in April.

The think session will be hosted by Ignite Scale San Diego, a consortium of private and public groups that are all bent on building out the region as a “smart city.” The best ideas from the community will advance into a city-backed startup accelerator program and later be tested in pilot programs in San Diego and surrounding areas.

The organization is asking for local innovators to solve three urban challenges in San Diego.

  • Smart traffic lights that adapt to immediate needs or changing traffic conditions: What if first responders could be routed through the city by switching the signals ahead of time, thereby clearing the path to a destination? This is one way the city would like to see traffic lights modernized. Other situations that might call for adaptive lights include big events like marathons, in which roadways are temporarily shut down.
  • Access to fresh fruits and vegetables: Buying fresh produce in low and moderate income neighborhoods is a challenge. Can technology improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables in these regions?
  • Modeling future traffic congestion caused by proposed real estate or commercial developments: What would be the impact of a new development in the city on neighboring traffic, parking and public transportation? The city hopes to find a way to model this impact ahead of time with software that takes “multiple data sets into account” so it can plan ahead.

The consortium includes the city, along with local business accelerator Scale San Diego, which focuses on smart cities technology; and US Ignite, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit focused on boosting technology’s adoption in city and local governments. Cox Communications also funded the group.

The brainstorming session, which is open to the public, is scheduled for April 12 to 14. The organizations invited students, technologists, scientists, entrepreneurs and others to attend. The session is designed as a hackathon, the end of which participants will prototype their solutions to the urban challenges. Ignite Scale San Diego is holding an earlier informational session on April 6, in which participants can learn more about the challenge areas, the format and the goals.

“Hackathons are great for engaging a community, creating ad-hoc teams, discovering who is good at coming up with non-trivial ideas and solutions within a short period of time and under pressure,” said Daniel Obodovski, co-founder and managing partner of Scale San Diego, in an email. “Also hackathons are great at generating new ideas — this is why many Fortune 500 companies including WalMart and Facebook use hackathons for coming up with new product ideas internally.”

Obodovski also said the hackathon format is not meant to create full solutions for these urban challenges as “there’s just not enough time.” That’s why the winning ideas will advance into an accelerator program through Scale San Diego from April through June. Participants who reach this stage will get access to “cutting edge technology and continued mentorship, as well as stakeholder feedback, networking opportunities and monetary rewards,” the organization stated.

This is not the first time the city has solicited startups, technologists and scientists to solve urban problems. In October, the city paid San Francisco nonprofit City Innovate to list five significant urban challenges on the organization’s bidding platform. There, startups around the globe can vie for a chance to solve urban problems.

“We are always looking for inventive, sustainable and economically feasible solutions to solve pressing City issues associated with transportation, air and water quality, affordable housing and other common urban challenges,” said Erik Caldwell, the city’s deputy chief operating officer for its Smart & Sustainable Communities arm.

Interested parties can register for Ignite Scale San Diego’s free information session here.

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.