HUD Secretary Julian Castro addresses Smart Cities Week audience.
Addressing a packed auditorium at Smart Cities Week, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said smart technologies will make urban centers ‘places of real promise’ in the decades to come.
“As we stand here in 2015, we are today living in a century of cities,” Castro said, noting that around the globe people are flooding to cities. And at the same time, advances in technology are happening at a rate that was unthinkable just a decade ago.
“Smart technology is changing how we live, how we work and even how we understand the world,” Castro said. “The question is, how do we harness those new revolutions?”
We’re all connected
Castro, who was mayor of San Antonio, Texas before being appointed HUD Secretary by President Barack Obama in 2014, suggested connectivity and collaboration will make cities of the future “places of real promise” – places where people have a chance to realize their dreams.
But he said smart cities must make promise and opportunity accessible to all – that every child should have access to good parks, good libraries and a good education. He mentioned that in the U.S., where children grow up often determines where they end up. He talked about disadvantaged neighborhoods just miles away from more affluent ones where people live an average of 18 years longer.
He mentioned new HUD guidelines to ensure that a child’s future is not determined by the zip code he or she grew up in.
“Collaboration is central to achieving all of these goals,” he said.
The HUD secretary recalled collaborating with business leaders and other stakeholders as mayor of San Antonio to make the city a leader in community solar, which enabled renters and people in the city’s lowest income neighborhoods to lower their energy costs.
“Today I’m proud HUD is doing similar work across the nation,” he said.
Public housing authorities spend up to 30% of their budgets on utility costs, Castro said. This summer the agency tripled its renewable energy targets with a goal of 300 megawatts in the next five years. HUD is also analyzing data to find ways to curb energy and water use as it upgrades its existing stock of affordable housing.
And HUD, Castro said, is also helping train public housing residents for green collar jobs through the new STEM, Energy, and Economic Development (SEED) initiative, which leverages federal investments and partnerships in six cities currently to connect public housing residents to energy-sector training and jobs. The program will expand to 15 more cities, he said.
Fostering walkable neighborhoods
Continuing on the connectivity theme, Castro recalled attending a neighborhood meeting as a young city council member in San Antonio where a woman approached him about her mother, who was diabetic. She told him her mother’s doctor had advised her to walk and get exercise, but the woman said her mother’s street had no sidewalks and dangerous dogs roamed.
The lesson he took away was that policymakers need to see how everything is connected -- in this case, public health, neighborhoods and transportation.
“As we think of truly smart cities,” he said, “it’s cities that get that.”
Toward economic prosperity for all
More inclusive local governments working to improve the quality of life for all – to harness everybody’s talent and ability and contributions -- will help the U.S. remain strong, he added.
“Cities are where the future happens first,” he said. “They are incubators for bold ideas.”
Expanding opportunity is not just a civic responsibility, Secretary Castro suggested. “It’s an economic imperative.”