Navigating the Innovation Gap: Building a Concrete Jungle

June 1, 2017 Sara Audisho

Truth be told, innovation can be found across different industries. Though the term is usually associated with achievements in tech and the medical sciences, we'd like to think that other areas of work can be innovative too. 

Of course, groundbreaking accomplishments in tech and health are world-changing. We need them and there's no doubt about it. But groundbreaking work in engineering, infrastructure, art, advertising, marketing, so on and so forth, can be just as important. The evolution of all these areas alter the way we live and think.

Now imagine the power of overlap between industries and organizations. Is that the key to real innovation? 

The next several segments of this series will be used to showcase one area where the overlap of industries promises to achieve wonders: urban innovation.

Cities are growing rapidly, creating unprecedented challenges that are just around the corner. Now only if we could see around that corner: “How can we ensure that we are planning and building the physical environment in a considerate way to allow for innovation that we haven’t yet imagined?”

Touché. How are we supposed to build our urban centers in a way that facilitates future inventions? In a way that anticipates our tomorrow? That is some gifted foresight.

Intersection, a newly merged startup under Sidewalk Labs, calls this kind of thinking ‘future-proof’.

Yes, yes, we know. No one can say for certain what the future holds. Magic 8-balls aren’t actually magical (sorry to break it to you), and we’re not about to vouch for palm readers either. To the extent that is possible though, we might want to prepare for advances in technology – the ones we know we’ll be capable of soon and maybe even the ones we don’t.

In tech talk, this means building new digital solutions into the physical environment “through open APIs, SDKs, and integration tools.” The public space then becomes an environment that can iterate and learn from itself, preventing urban centers from becoming stuck with obsolete technology. 

In a world that is urbanizing faster than our city planners can prepare for, the need for innovative solutions is now more important than ever. By 2030, the globe is projected to have 41 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants in each.

So you get the point. We have to figure out how to support so much life in so little space, and we have to figure it out fast. 

But hey, where there are challenges, there is immense opportunity for progress. For all of their concerning growth, cities are ideal testing labs for innovation: discovering the little things and big things that make a commuter’s life more bearable; a visitor's experience more meaningful.

This is where companies like Sidewalk Labs and Intersection step in. They are teams of urbanists and technologists working together with cities to develop ubiquitous connectivity. Connecting millions of people to the Internet, or “the basic right of modern life.” Connecting transportation networks in more effective ways. Connecting low-income city residents to new models of integrated health care. The list goes on.

Tech has infiltrated every industry, naturally. But this is the first time that entire companies serve the purpose of using tech to transform the public space – infrastructure, social services, district planning, and then some. It's overlap and collaboration that could pay off enormously. 

We'll be profiling some of these companies in the coming segments to explore the idea of innovation in the urban landscape.

Sneak preview? There’s something in it for everyone: residents, developers, companies, and most notably as you’ll see, advertisers. 

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