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New Coalition Seeks to Guide City Tech Investments

The Coalition for Urban Innovation includes tech vendors such as Sidewalk Labs, planning groups and others. They will push for federal investment in cities as they face climate change and other challenges.

A city skyline at night with red and white streaks in front of it to indicate cars driving on a freeway.
Gov tech providers are banding together with other organizations to push for more urban infrastructure via a new nationwide group.

The Coalition for Urban Innovation launched as local and state governments await potential new infrastructure funds from the federal government, and as agencies of all types focus more on the impacts of climate change. The coalition will focus on both those areas, among others.

“Cities and urban innovation have never been more central to our economic future and competitiveness,” said Richard Florida, an urbanist with the University of Toronto who serves on the new group’s seven-member advisory board. “They need to be an integral part of the conversation about government innovation, economic and infrastructure policy and more.”

Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, stands as perhaps the most famous member of the group’s advisory board, which also includes Shabazz Stuart, the founder and CEO of bike-parking pod provider Oonee; Kiran Jain, general counsel for Replica, whose data platform focuses on urban areas; and others.

Companies involved with the coalition include Google-linked Sidewalk Labs, which focuses on smart city efforts; Oonee; Via Transportation, which sells public transit technology; Siemens-owned Comfy and Enlighted, which sell global workplace and Internet of Things products, respectively; and Replica. Venture capitalists, along with planning and advocacy groups, also are taking part in the coalition’s efforts.

The coalition, according to a press release, “will advocate for federal support to reimagine urban infrastructure, drive innovation and transform our communities as Congress and the administration consider historic plans to invest in our infrastructure, expand clean energy and improve energy efficiency.”

According to Oonee’s Stuart, the infrastructure bill still working its way toward a presidential signature represents a “once-in-a-generation” investment opportunity for urban projects, which makes this the right time to launch the new group.

The measure of the coalition’s success will stem from those investments.

“We would like to see supporting and investing in urban innovation emerge as a core national priority across the federal government — to improve lives for city residents and tackle the significant challenges we face as a country,” he wrote in an email to Government Technology. “We are in touch with groups representing local governments and intend to collaborate with them as opportunities arise.”

Beyond the immediate issue of figuring out what the pending infrastructure bill might mean for cities, the coalition will also focus on climate change — an issue where cities will be deeply involved, according to Stuart, but where cooperation is necessary.

“Whether we focus on the multimodal transportation strategies being advanced in cities such as Austin and Nashville, the pathbreaking policies to slash carbon emissions from the building sector, as in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, or on the numerous local initiatives underway to follow through on the climate pledges made by local governments in recent years, cities and urban counties are increasingly recognizing that they are on the front lines in the battle against climate change,” Stuart wrote via email. “But to support and expand those local efforts, our cities and urban counties need a true partner in the federal government.”

According to data from the coalition, U.S. cities account for 75 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. But those cities largely deliver services that have not changed since World War II, the group said.

Optimism is running high among providers of gov tech — to say nothing among many local officials — that the pending infrastructure bill represents a new, more serious focus on combating the problems of climate change.

Deloitte, which often takes part in larger government tech projects, offers a recent example of that outlook.

“The Biden administration has brought a new sense of urgency to climate change, moving quickly from the outset with a series of executive orders and memoranda that call for a whole-of-government approach to the problem,” the company stated in an analysis from late July. “These new policies will require new approaches to action.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.