Newark Embraces ‘Smart City’ Plans with Range of Innovative Initiatives

The infrastructure of America’s cities is ­– simply put – outdated. Designed decades ago for much smaller urban populations, large scale congestion and inefficiency are now commonplace. By 2030, analysts expect over 65 percent of the nation’s population to live in cities, and so incorporating new technology to innovatively meet these greater demands has become an almost urgent necessity.

Newark like many other large cities is joining the ‘Smart City’ movement.

Smart Cities are places where innovation of infrastructure, efficiency and technology are embraced and implemented to help the city run more smoothly, and Thomas Motyka, Senior Executive Director of NJII’s Smart Cities Innovation Lab, is working to help Newark embrace the future.

Motyka says it’s an exciting position because he is front seat to what’s going on in Newark, giving him the opportunity to work with a range of companies, local government agencies and innovators that are bringing technology and solutions to Newark.

“There’s a lot of energy and excitement,” said Motyka. “You don’t go more than a couple days without seeing new announcements and developments [in Newark].” He specifically mentioned startups, university initiatives, corporate leaders such as Audible and support from Mayor Ras Baraka who strongly advocates for the tech community as reasons to get excited. Just recently the management of 2 Gateway Center held a press conference with Mayor Baraka announcing its participation in Newark Fiber, offering the region’s highest-speed, commercially available fiberoptic internet connection, while also hosting a Tech Summit in support of the city’s tech community.

To capitalize on Newark’s innovative environment, the New Jersey Innovation Institute launched the Smart City Test Bed program (MetroLab@Newark), an open platform where companies and inventors can deploy and evaluate the viability of their solutions. Focusing on finding concrete solutions that will impact Newark, the program offers a “plug and play” environment, which allows inventors and innovators to collaborate and test their solutions in the city. Leaders from business, government and universities all come together at the Test Beds to help the city move toward economic opportunity and have a positive impact. 

For NJII, positive impact entails improving the quality of life while reducing the overall cost of services for the government. According to Motyka, Newark is already on the cusp of turning that corner.

“I was at an event the other day where a number of residents kept saying that we’re close to the tipping point,” said Motyka. “We’ve seen so much activity over the past few years that the same type of environment that helped blossom Hoboken and some other areas are really being felt here now.”

Another initiative causing excitement is BrandNewark, which is part of the federal MetroLab progam and is overseen by Motyka. Led by NJII and the City of Newark, and with additional support from the Newark Downtown District (NDD), the platform will use centralized data to help the government deliver timely communications and improve city functions such as energy, transportation and public health.

Similar to the Test Beds, the platform is based on collaboration, and any innovator can contribute ideas or technologies that fall under the common goal of helping Newark and its residents improve their day-to-day activities and interactions.

“We’re going through a tech revolution where so many things are changing, so many things are getting digitized, and the net effect of it all is changing people’s lives for the better,” Motyka explained.

Although BrandNewark launched only a few months ago, residents are already seeing the effects. In November, they installed a permanent kiosk in Military Park that provides fast, free wi-fi for anyone using it. In time, they hope to install more projects that encourage productivity and stimulate resident interaction with technology in a similar way.

Transforming Newark into a Smart City not only improves the daily lives of its citizens, it prepares the city for the population growth in years to come.  Improved infrastructure often has a near term impact on the City’s marketability, property values, safety and services.

“I can’t think of a better role to be in than where you have that as your underlying initiative,” said Motyka.

With many pieces falling in place there is a sense of momentum now at the ground level bringing change that is impacting daily lives. Technology, innovation and collaboration are putting Newark on the right track for a brighter future.

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