Putting People at the Heart of Smart Cities: Community Engagement and Emerging Mobility in San José

San José MOTI
IDEO CoLab Ventures
4 min readJul 3, 2019


Our Vision for a San José of the Future

In a fast-changing world, it can feel like government is always trying to catch up with the private sector. In the last 10 years, technology has changed how we get around, visit and talk to our neighbors in cities. While new technology can be convenient, it can also have negative impacts. The use of technology in our cities and societies is complex. Ride-sharing companies can increase congestion on roads, popular electric scooters also can increase accidents on sidewalks, and gentrification and displacement resulting from new or growing technology firms can cause pushback from current residents. New technology often has unintended social consequences.

We see the potential for cities and private companies to work together to use new technology for the public good. By design, cities are experts in connecting with the public and incorporating the wants and needs of residents. This is San José’s model for a smart city that balances public good with technology advancement. We are committed to working with companies to create positive value together. We are especially excited about this when thinking about new mobility technologies, such as autonomous vehicles.

Hard Problems

Even so, the city still has a big question. How do we actually do this? How do we focus on our residents’ needs, wants, and experiences while embracing new technology like autonomous vehicles? We know that we have work to do in the reliability of transit, environmental impact on the residents, and with health disparities and transportation. How do we center these important issues when talking about technology that isn’t quite here yet?

There are no simple solutions. These are Hard Problems. Thanks to generous funding from the Knight Foundation, we are working with IDEO CoLab and Gehl to explore these issues. Together, we are bringing a more human-centered perspective to community engagement around these Hard Problems.

IDEO CoLab has experience designing for more sustainable, livable, and inclusive cities in their Collaborative Cities work. Gehl, a consultant that works with cities to make public spaces more active and enjoyable for people, has been a partner in this work. Recently, we had our first of many meetings in a three-year process to explore how to integrate autonomous vehicles into our current transportation systems.

Credit to Anthony Weeks for the illustration

People-Centered AV Mobility

On May 23, City of San Jose, IDEO CoLab and Gehl held a workshop, called Hard Problems Workshop, to kick off the People-Centered Autonomous Vehicle Mobility Project. We started off by bringing together twenty community engagement experts, along with leaders in our neighborhoods and the city. Together, we started to think through issues in our transportation system. We also started to identify challenges that might come with new transportation technologies. We focused the above thinking and discussion around five personas representing some of the diverse people that make our city their home. From there, we began to think about how new technologies might impact our city in the future.

We know that a single workshop is not full community engagement. IDEO and Gehl shared some of their best practices with similar programs in other cities. We know community engagement requires more than one event. A truly people-centered process must live in the community. We are committed to making this a reality.

You can get a peek into our Hard Problems Workshop with this video: San José Hard Problems video. This summer, we will go into San José communities and talk with people from across our city to:

1. identify common challenges faced by residents trying to get around San José.

2. center and amplify historically marginalized voices.

3. build prototypes to make the future of transportation more tangible today.

Stay tuned for more updates this summer as we keep working with IDEO CoLab and Gehl on Hard Problems in transportation.



San José MOTI
IDEO CoLab Ventures

San José Mayor’s Office of Tech & Innovation (MOTI). Let’s co-create a more inclusive, safer & transparent San José! #smartCities moti.sanjosemayor.org