Using a Network of Campus Testbeds and Community Engagement to Accelerate the Mutual Creation, Adoption, and Transfer of Urban Innovation in Cities
Lead PI:
Jonathan Fink

This proposal highlights two barriers limiting the ability of technology to improve the quality of life in cities: (1) a mismatch between the needs of communities and of the private and public sectors, and (2) a distrust among community members of companies and city governments promoting technological change. It explores the hypothesis that both challenges can be overcome using a network of campus-based testbeds where city residents, governments, companies, and academics can assess new applications under relatively controlled conditions before dispatching them more broadly. Using five contrasting testbeds in Portland OR, Seattle WA, and Vancouver BC (Portland State University, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland International Airport, University of Washington, and University of British Columbia), and focusing on three distinct application areas (accessibility for people with disabilities, integration of building energy efficiency and public health, and protection of the climate-ameliorating capacities of urban trees) this project will compare how stakeholder groups use novel technologies to increase prioritized civic values. The testbed network will create an urban innovation evaluation pipeline consisting of problem identification, digital assessment of current conditions, implementation of campus-based testing, and evaluation and scaling of results to create civic value, all in partnership with five core constituencies: community stakeholder groups, city government, large tech firms, small startups, and universities. The highly interdisciplinary research proposed here builds on a unique set of corporate, academic, municipal, and nonprofit investments and partnerships to help define a more inclusive and responsive ecosystem of urban innovation.

Through close coordination with core urban constituencies, this project will design and deploy novel combinations of technologies across a five-campus network. This project will also use three strands of social science research to examine: (1) how locally tested innovations can increase their impact on larger socio-technical systems through better coordination, (2) how negotiation and compromise can overcome different constituencies' objections to implementation, and (3) how engaging communities earlier in the evaluation process can address concerns and help resolve the mismatch between community motives and technological outcomes. Recommendations from these studies can increase the chances that technology use leads to more inclusive, productive, and impactful urban problem-solving. Success will be measured by (1) cities more rapidly finding new combinations of digital applications that effectively address community needs; (2) community groups reporting that their city is more responsive to their priorities; and (3) companies creatively and profitably responding to what urban residents want.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Jonathan Fink
Jonathan Fink is Professor of Geology and Director of the Digital City Testbed Center at PSU, where he studies natural hazards and urban sustainability. He also is a visiting professor at University of British Columbia where he co-directs the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative, which seeks to help build a technology corridor between Vancouver and Seattle. He previously was Vice President for Research at both PSU and Arizona State University. He received a PhD in Geology from Stanford University and is an elected fellow of the Geological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Performance Period: 10/01/2021 - 09/30/2022
Institution: Portland State University
Award Number: 2125672