Envision America – Ten Smart Cities Take Shape

Learning from Envision Charlotte ten US cities are supported in their smart city developments.
Published: Tue 01 Mar 2016

“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow,” the expression goes. And when Duke Energy with its visionary then CEO Jim Rogers formulated the vision of Envision Charlotte, probably there was little thought that it would set the scene for what has now become a nationwide smart city initiative in the United States.

Envision Charlotte

Envision Charlotte was launched as a non-profit public-private partnership between Duke, Cisco and Charlotte Center City Partners in September 2010 to make commercial buildings in the centre of this North Carolina city – where Duke is headquartered – more energy efficient through the deployment of innovative technologies.

The initiative immediately gained support from other organizations and institutions including banks.

At the time it was hoped the public-private approach to energy efficiency could be replicated across the nation. But since then Envision Charlotte has itself evolved beyond energy with programmes also to reduce water consumption and the level of waste disposal and improve air quality – in short, as in its logo, to moving towards becoming a “sustainable city”. [Envision Charlotte: Building a Model for Smart Cities Worldwide]

Envision Charlotte’s targets include a 20% reduction in energy use in Uptown Charlotte in 5 years. By June 2015 reductions of 16.1% across 61 buildings had been achieved, representing savings of $17 million in energy costs, and putting the initiative on track to meet its goal.

Envision America

What was going on in Charlotte soon attracted wider attention and in September 2015 resulted in announcement by the White House of an Envision America initiative – one of several smart city initiatives – to enable cities to learn from the Envision Charlotte experience in developing their own initiatives.

The ten cities selected for 2016 were: Pittsburgh, PA; Los Angeles, CA; San Diego, CA; Milwaukee, WI; Portland, OR; Dallas, TX; Cambridge, MA; Spokane, WA; New York City, NY; and Greenville, SC.

The cities met at a workshop in January and are now taking forward their plans with the development of roadmaps and other activities. Projects under development include microgrids, improved transportation flow and parking, more efficient street lighting, and improved air quality.

Among other support for the cities, Accelerated Innovations is providing the Envision America app, a community engagement platform built to facilitate, measure and gamify large-scale sustainability action campaigns. And Microsoft is providing each city with one year of access to its Azure Government cloud platform, with ongoing assistance to develop smart city solutions.

US smart city initiatives

Numerous smart city initiatives are under way in the US, and the September 2015 White House announcement included investment of over US$160 million in some of these and new collaborations “to help local communities tackle key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services.”

Key strategies include creating test beds for Internet of Things applications and developing new multi-sector collaborative models and forging inter-city and international collaborations.

The MetroLab Network also was launched, in which more than 20 city-university collaborations are undertaking more than 60 smart city projects in the next year. The aim is to leverage university expertise to address city challenges. 

Some other initiatives under way include:

• City Digital, a Chicago-based consortium, has launched two pilots focused on major urban infrastructure challenges.

• Dallas has launched the Dallas Innovation Alliance, with initial efforts focused on infrastructure, mobility and connected living in downtown’s West End district.

• IBM is deploying a Smarter Cities Challenge team in Detroit to help the city and the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) remove blight and build smarter Detroit neighbourhoods.

• New York City is creating a series of neighbourhood innovation labs across five boroughs to accelerate the testing and deployment of new smart city technologies.

• Siemens USA is making available its City Performance Tool to the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA).