Spokane

Spokane Wants to Test Its Way into the Future

Once known for its mining, timber, and agriculture industries, the city plans to become a laboratory for technology.

This year, the city of Spokane, Wash., took a page from its storied past and began reinventing itself as a smart city hub. As part of its Urbanova initiative, Spokane partnered with universities and industry to kickstart a project for testing Internet of Things technology in a central region within the community. The results of these experiments would then be rolled out to the broader city and surrounding communities.

This isn’t the first time Spokane has had to reinvent itself. In the late nineteenth century, a fire wiped out most of its downtown. The city transformed itself from a gold mining town to one of most important rail centers in the United States. At the dawn of the twentieth century, Spokane again began a transition to agriculture and logging. Later, the city emerged as a manufacturing hub.

Today, the Urbanova project calls for designating a 770-acre zone adjacent to downtown as a smart hub. “Half of that area is underdeveloped or undeveloped, which gives us great opportunities to develop that area intentionally,” says Sharelynn Moore, vice president of global marketing and public affairs at Itron, one of the industrial partners spearheading the Urbanova project.

Based within the city’s University District, the region will benefit from the involvement of six universities, including Washington University. They will help analyze the data and study commercial applications of the technology. Urbanova dovetails with a separate effort to make the University District into an "innovation district," a hub that offers a mixture of housing, office and retail space connected to transit. City officials say the innovation district will take more than three decades to develop, according to the Spokesman newspaper. And since 2004, the hub has raised more than $740 million in investment.

Meanwhile, Urbanova planners anticipate their project will raise many questions as they work to improve the quality of life in the city. They hope to attract researchers, entrepreneurs and other companies to chart a strategy for governance, privacy and data security.

The first part of Urbanova’s game plan is to install a network of connected street lights in the 770-acre zone to help save energy. “Street light becomes a vehicle to light up the network because you are creating a network with them that can also be used for other types of devices,” Moore says. “It’s a great place to overlay a network.”

“We’ll have 50 lights total and, on 10 of those lights, we are going to do more detailed measurement around air quality and temperature,” says Heather Rosentrater, vice president, energy delivery at Avista, another company partnering on the project.

The smart streetlights will lay the groundwork for a five-year plan to monitor energy and air quality within Spokane.

Urbanova also has a project underway to launch a microgrid-based shared energy economy. They have received $1.5 million in funding from Washington State University.

The Urbanova planners hope that, by having a blank canvas, they will become smart city pioneers. “We are not interested in technology for technology’s sake. We are interested in what problems can be solved,” says Sharelynn Moore of Itron. “We want to collaborate, work together, and test not only the technology but the business model and the value before we go out and offer it on a broader scale.”

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