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Smart City Challenge Tackles COVID-19 Recovery in Colorado

The Revive! Challenge, organized by the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, is open to low- or no-cost tech solutions to help communities in a post-COVID world. Submissions are due May 5, and winners will be named in July.

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The goal of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a smart city technology challenge for Colorado communities.

The Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, a nonprofit comprised of some 70 members, has launched the Revive! Challenge as an opportunity for technology providers to propose low- or no-cost tech solutions for cities in areas like active transportation, which could include walking or biking; economic development; the changing roles of public spaces like streets, rights of way or parks; the digital divide and housing stability.

“The purpose here is really to help Colorado communities recover from this very difficult time,” said Johanna Jamison, program director with the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, during an online conference call last week with tech companies and others interested in learning more about the challenge. “And in order to do that, we’re seeking innovative solutions that address very specific problems related to that recovery.”

The alliance hopes to receive proposals that seek to strengthen resiliency and equity, two themes that have emerged in the last year as top concerns across cities of all sizes, as the pandemic has called attention to the often yawning gaps in areas like economic and societal equity among residents.

“We know that these are two elements that have become even more essential … as we look to the future, and toward recovering, and really reviving, our Colorado communities,” said Jamison.

Challenge proposals are due May 5. Finalists will be winnowed down some time in June, and winners announced in July. It’s not yet known how many proposals will be selected going forward.

“It will be up to the deployment board to decide what is of interest for them and what they want to move forward,” Jamison told Government Technology. “We are really just seeing how the process unfolds, and wanting them to really steer this in terms of what goes into that implementation stage.”

Given the numerous budgetary restraints many cities now find themselves in, the proposals, if not budget-neutral, should cost no more than about $5,000.

“This is an opportunity for solution providers to showcase themselves to a network of innovative governments across the state, as long as they align with problems of interest,” said Tyler Svitak, executive director of the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance.

Centennial, a suburb of Denver, is focused strongly on economic recovery, said Melanie Ward, a strategic adviser for transportation and mobility in Centennial.

“Commuting congestion was a challenge for Centennial before COVID, so we will be keeping a close eye on how employees are returning to offices, supporting transit ridership and looking for ways to encourage our 2020 travel patterns of shorter, neighborhood trips on bike lanes or sidewalks,” said Ward.

“We are also looking for creative ways to support our small businesses,” she added, calling attention to Spark Centennial, a pilot program where the city helps local businesses grow their connections and interactions with residents.

“Business owners are paired with local artists to develop immersive stores and for-sale experiences that are one of a kind,” Ward explained.

Aside from offering proposals to address today’s problems, Revive! is an opportunity for private-sector providers to interact with cities and introduce themselves in what is likely to be a small-scale role, which could become more substantial at a later date.

“There’s a much broader possibility, and this could be the thing that opens the door, or begins this process, and starts building that traction,” said Jamison.

Proposals should be tailored toward a specific problem, and clearly state the outcome and how it improves community resiliency and equity, say organizers. It should not necessarily be targeted at a specific city, unless that city is participating in that particular problem statement.

“You want to demonstrate that you understand the challenge that Colorado communities are facing in particular, but you don’t want to be so narrow that you’re focusing on a single community,” said Jamison.

For Centennial, Ward said she wants "private-sector solutions that are multifaceted and are addressing multiple challenges at once.”

“All of our land use, transportation and economic development challenges are interrelated,” she continued. “So we will have the best results if we address them in a coordinated fashion.”

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Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.
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