Why local universities can be one of your best smart city partners

Strategic partnerships are essential for smart city success. And as we've said many times before, local academic institutions make great partners. They can often help cities successfully overcome challenges they couldn't resolve on their own by investing their expertise, resources and research capabilities. A very recent example is Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, a city with a rapidly growing population and a large homeless population (Oregon is ranked first in at least one nationwide ranking for homeless children and youth.) PSU announced earlier this month that it will establish two new research centers, one focusing on smart cities technologies and the other on homelessness. While the new programs will extend well beyond the city in terms of scope, they illustrate how powerful city-academic partnerships can be. — Doug Peeples


Portland State University in Portland, Oregon is already involved in almost 30 research centers and institutes. Earlier this month it announced the addition of two more: a smart cities tech testbed and a homelessness research collaborative.

A collaborative testbed for smart city technologies
The Digital City Testbed Center (DCTC) will concentrate on assessing how technology can help cities operate more efficiently, create economic opportunities and environmental sustainability while accommodating growing populations. One focus will be "… to balance the promise of new technologies against concerns about security, equity, ethics and possible monopolization.

The testbed expects to collaborate with Seattle's University of Washington and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. Partners also will include the city of Portland, Council Global Lead Partner Microsoft, Council Associate Partner Intel and others. Focus areas will include accessibility, resilience, sustainability and public education.

The testbed will actually be a compilation of testbeds on corporate, academic and non-profit campuses and will be open to cities, startups, tech companies, non-profits and the public. The research conducted by faculty and students will evaluate not only technologies but also policies and practices, accessibility issues (as in how people with disabilities navigate cities), and smart city projects already in progress in the region.

A better understanding of homelessness (and real solutions)
The second new research center, the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative (HRAC), will work locally and in other cities to identify the specific conditions that lead to homelessness. The plan is to b ring all of the university's schools and colleges together with homeless people, service providers, policymakers and advocates.

The HRAC is expected to research practices and policy relevant to homelessness, find solutions that address how homelessness is perpetuated by racism, provide program and policy recommendations for local leaders. The research will specifically target how best to support homeless people, document cost and health impacts of homelessness and assess how state and local policies can best reduce and prevent it.

During the press conference announcing the new research centers, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said "With a decade of unprecedented growth in our cities comes many challenges but also many opportunities. As Portland continues to grow, I think it makes perfect sense to have our university tackle these urban issues."

PSU will provide $3 million in funding for the research centers.