By Daniel Obodovski
In San Diego County, roughly 1 in 7 people and 1 in 5 children are going hungry every day. Yet about 40% of food gets wasted in the United States. But through the IGNITE| SCALE | San Diego Urban Innovation Program, San Diego is finding innovative ways to use technology to combat hunger and other issues facing our communities.
Last year, the first round of the program produced, among others, a solution to food insecurity called FreshStart, as well as a computer vision solution for detecting cracks on the streets that are likely to turn into potholes called RoadReader.
Through Fresh Start, San Diego businesses with leftover fresh food for the day would use a mobile app to make a food donation that is picked up by Fresh Start and transported to various organizations such as food banks, shelters and food pantries.
I’ve always been a big believer in crowdsourcing innovation, especially in urban communities. People with different backgrounds who routinely deal with private sector challenges can be a powerful resource in finding solutions to community challenges. In San Diego, we have most of the same problems that many large metropolitan areas have — just think of the time you spend at the DMV or requesting city permits. Think of parking, alternative transportation, fixing potholes or anything else that brings you in contact with your city. Beyond that think of homelessness, affordable housing and other problems that don’t seem to have an obvious technology solution.
The vision behind the Urban Innovation Program, which kicks off its 2020 session on Friday, Feb. 28, in downtown San Diego, is to connect the city, universities, businesses and citizens through collective problem solving or crowdsourcing to create real solutions that will have real impact.
Bridging the gap between urban challenges and technology was our aim three years ago when we created SCALE San Diego, which is short for Smart Cities Accelerator, Labs + Environment. We started by building a community of diverse talent — students, engineers, designers, data scientists, urban planners, business professionals and artists. We ran events focused on pressing urban challenges, inviting subject matter experts from the city and communities to exchange ideas with the audience. We tapped into a talented crowd of young professionals who care deeply about San Diego and urban innovation. They want to stay in San Diego but are sometimes limited by the lack of opportunity to apply those very talents to benefit our region.
Two years ago, our efforts took on a larger scope when we partnered with US Ignite, which is accelerating the smart gigabit communities movement across the country by guiding communities into the connected future, creating a path for private sector growth, and advancing technology research. US Ignite, in partnership with Cox Communications, helped fund the new program. When the city of San Diego joined, we named the program IGNITE | SCALE | SAN DIEGO — and great things started happening.
This partnership between government, businesses, universities, and communities is critical because each sector is part of a region’s ecosystem and each relies on the other. Local governments need to quickly address challenges and ensure economic development, as well as make it easy for residents to navigate city services. Companies like Cox Communications not only offer goods and services, but also bring jobs and contribute to the economic growth of a community. They also recognize the importance of the emerging smart community and can help cities understand how technology can create solutions to these challenges. Universities can channel their cutting-edge research and emerging student talent to practical economic development initiatives. And local communities bring in expertise with inside knowledge of the urban challenges.
The IGNITE | SCALE | SAN DIEGO Urban Innovation Program brings this entire ecosystem together, successfully pairing financial investment with technical and organizational expertise. Through the public-private partnership programs we run, and with the help of our partners, we are a catalyst for innovation in smart city services that are powered by a new generation of technologies.
In 2020 we’re reaching out to San Diegans once again and recruiting teams of entrepreneurs, technologists, engineers, students, community activists, and creative thinkers to solve challenges in three areas — arts and culture engagement, mobility and mode sharing in low- to moderate-income communities, and new interfaces for communities to interact with the city.
We’re inviting innovators and forward thinkers to attend our free Innovation Week Kickoff on Friday, Feb. 28, to learn about the challenge areas, prizes and more, and how they could be important contributors to finding local solutions.
Daniel Obodovski is co-founder and managing partner of SCALE San Diego, and organization seeking to use the latest technology and public-private partnerships to address urban challenges.
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