That’s not to pick on IBM or Portland or smart city initiatives as a whole. Despite these lessons, public officials and tech start-ups still struggle to speak the same language. Just read about any of the latest squabbles between local governments and Uber or Airbnb. There are all sorts of institutional barriers on both sides. On the city end, those include vested interests, risk-averse bureaucracy, private-sector suspicion, and legitimate public safety concerns. On the tech end are political insensitivities, a reflexive dismissal of existing regulations, and a reluctance to balance profit motives with civic benefits and systems.
When Larry Page announced the creation of Sidewalk Labs last summer, he recognized that digital innovations have an enormous capacity to address big urban challenges like housing affordability, transportation efficiency, and energy conservation. One of the barriers to faster and wider change is a lack of dialogue between the people who live in today’s cities and the folks who build tomorrow’s technologies. Larry’s diagnosis of the problem was spot on: it takes a strong “big-picture view of the many factors that affect city life” to “develop the technologies and partnerships you need to make a difference.”