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Discover the smart airport that’s teaching lessons to smart cities (and see it in action)

Submitted by jesse_berst on February 28, 2019

Not only is it a city’s right to steal good ideas – it is a city’s responsibility to harvest best practices on behalf of its citizens.

Where are the best places to harvest innovations? One great source comes from “mini-cities” such as stadiums, campuses, bases, and airports. They often have the freedom and the funding to pioneer new concepts.

San Diego International Airport is an outstanding example. Because the next Smart Cities Week conference is in San Diego (April 15-17), our team has been arranging tours and site visits of must-see smart city projects. That’s how we encountered the airport, and the three ideas below that have relevance to cities.

(Smart Cities Week attendees can optionally tour cutting-edge smart installations, including the San Diego airport and the Port of San Diego. To sign up for a tour, simply select your preferred options under “Mobile Workshops” when you register.)

1. An innovation lab can empower entrepreneurs. The airport has set up an Innovation Lab to mentor and accelerate startups. Twice a year, they guide 4-5 teams through a 16-week program that takes them from prototype to presenting to the airport authority for possible implementation. If you’d like your region’s entrepreneurs spending their time to improve the city, consider a similar program.

Entrepreneurs need a sandbox, a place they can experiment with real data from a real customer. They need a beta customer who will test their first version. And they need access to support services and financing. Cities can often help with these issues, through direct assistance or introductions. In addition to studying the airport’s model, check out San Francisco’s Startup in Residence (STIR) program, which has now expanded to more than two dozen cities.

2. Sustainable buildings provide a great foundation for a smart city. In 2014, the airport’s Green Build terminal expansion was certified for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – the first airport in the world to achieve Platinum (the highest level). Such buildings have great value for cities, too. They garner attention. They save money. They set an example for private sector owners. And they have building automation systems that can be extended to talk to a smart grid to generate electricity savings and rebates.

3. Consider smart parking as an early project. The smart cities mantra is Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast. Using that touchstone, smart parking can often be a great place to start.

San Diego International Airport is already on the smart parking path. Its newest garage has a state-of-the-art parking guidance system that directs customers quickly to the nearest open space. (The garage is also sustainable, with extensive natural lighting, energy-efficient fixtures, and a stormwater re-use system that captures and treats rainwater for use in the airport’s Central Utility Plant.)

Cities that implement smart parking often get a pleasant upside surprise. For one thing, smart parking has a meaningful impact on air quality. As much as 30% of a downtown’s traffic may come from drivers circling to find parking. There’s no need to drive around if your phone guides you straight to a spot.

Better yet, smart parking can often pay for itself. Most cities see an increase in parking revenue because it’s easier for drivers to find spaces, including out-of-the-way spots that previously didn’t generate much revenue. What’s more, many cities see an uptick in retail sale tax revenues. People who no longer have to drive around spend that extra time shopping. And people who were previously averse to downtown because of its parking challenges find themselves visiting more often.

If you’re interested in any of these topics, then I encourage you to join us for Smart Cities Week April 15-17 in San Diego. You can tour the airport on Monday, April 14 to see these and many other inspiring innovations. And then you can tuck into a program of workshops, panels, and group discussions on related topics.

The program is packed with sessions led by experts from cities across the globe. Smart Cities Week is dedicated to cities talking to cities, so we focus on bringing in top-level city staffers to share their lessons learned.

Click this link to review the program. Or click here to go straight to registration.