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The Gramercy District: Building a Smart City from the Ground Up

The vision begins with something tangible: a fiber network that will span the entirety of the development, providing connectivity for business tenants, residents and the public.

A real-estate developer with a half-billion dollar project on tap in Northern Virginia is taking steps to ensure smart city fundamentals are baked into the mixed-use project.

The Gramercy District is a planned 2.5 million-square-foot, $500 million development just outside Washington, D.C.; it will be located at the site of a future Metro stop and just down the street from Washington Dulles International Airport.

The first phase is due to deliver in early 2019. In the run-up to construction, developer 22 Capital Partners has formed a novel partnership to promote smart city goals. Known as 22 CityLink, the group includes the developer, the state of Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, Microsoft and researchers from George Washington University.

“This vision of building a smart city from the ground up, one that is really built around entrepreneurship and continuous innovation, exactly aligns with our mission,” said David Ihrie, CTO of the Center for Innovative Technology. “Our shared vision is to do something scalable, something that is repeatable, whether you are building something from scratch or trying to put those smart city capabilities in an older built environment.”

The capabilities on the table run the gamut. The partners say they want to explore ways to incorporate sophisticated technologies into all aspects of the city, from transportation to telecommunications to public safety and beyond.

While 22 CityLink’s ambitions run broad, the vision begins with something tangible: a fiber network that will span the entirety of the development, providing connectivity for business tenants, residents and the public.

“We will have our own fiber and on top of that we will provide a turnkey environment for Wi-Fi and unified communications, a software-based solution that will allow us to manage multiple networks,” said Minh Le, managing partner for 22 Capital Partners.

Along with fiber and network management tools, 22 CityLink is exploring ways in which the developer can leverage data across the network for mutual benefit of tenants and the community.

“If there is a big conference coming six months from now, wouldn’t it be nice for your barbecue place to be able to offer discounts and promotions well in advance? We want to provide applications that will coordinate that,” Le said. “It’s about enhancing the community aspect of the city.”

The partners are also exploring smart energy solutions, looking for ways to build sustainability in from the ground up.

“We are evaluating best in class capabilities in terms of smart buildings, smart campus," Le said, "looking at how to use less energy in a way that is cost-effective, that does not require us to spend millions of dollars on some very sophisticated infrastructure."

The effort also includes a push to build sophisticated solutions in the public safety arena.

“In any large mixed-use environment you will have video cameras, you will have other elements of physical security, and we want to look at how we can use software to deploy those in the most cost-effective way,” Le said. “Then we want to see if there is an economical way to expand that further into the community, to the police and the other first responders.”

The partners are calling 22 CityLink a “smart city in a box” platform, whose goal it is to develop solutions that could be repurposed in any similar large-scale development. Government has a direct interest in seeing such efforts succeed, Ihrie said.

“There is the direct impact of creating new companies and new jobs around this technology. Then there also are a lot of state- and local-level policy questions that will need to be answered over time,” he said. “If people want to live in connected places, can you do that in a way that preserves all the other needs of the community? These are governmental issues, so our involvement here brings us closer to being able to address these things most directly.”

The first phase of Gramercy District is expected to include 268 luxury apartments, a parking garage, 10,000 square feet of office and 25,800 square feet of retail. A second phase would comprise 322 apartments, 8,000 square feet of office and another 25,000 square feet of retail.

By including George Washington University in the smart cities partnership, Le said his team is looking to make Gramercy District a learning environment for students pursuing an interest in urban issues.

“A lot of what students learn is academic, it only lives in the textbooks,” he said. “The university has a tremendous amount of intellectual capital and great ideas, but those ideas need to be tested in a real-life environment. We want to give them practical scenarios to tap into.”