4 Sustainability themes for a Smart City (New York)

Sustainability, one of Venture Smarter’s 4 pillars of a Smart City, can be split up into the following four sub-themes: Energy, Environmental, Agricultural, and Economic.

So what does this mean to you as a solution provider or seeker?

Simply put, the four concepts should work together to make a Smart City solution continual and efficient until something better comes along.  After all, technology and innovation are still outpacing policy and implementation. 

All the same, small and growing cities around the world are starting to work together to build communities around shared goals using the combination of technology and forward-thinking ideas to evolve service delivery to its citizens. City initiatives, national governments, and supporting bodies like Open Data (NYC), X-Road (Estonia), and World Bank Open Data are a step in the right direction in improving active civic engagement to address the unseen members of society.

Zack Huhn, CEO of Venture Smarter, speaking with Jon Salisbury, founder of Nexigen and smartLink, and Andrew H at the  Smart Cincy Summit . 

Zack Huhn, CEO of Venture Smarter, speaking with Jon Salisbury, founder of Nexigen and smartLink, and Andrew H at the Smart Cincy Summit

An excellent example of efforts for growing cities in the United States is the recent success of the Regional Smart Cities Initiative programming at the Smart Cincy Summit. A first in the Midwest, the event invited stakeholders from the public and private sectors to listen, learn, and collaborate on ways to make a growing Cincinnati region smarter, happier, and more livable for its residents and businesses.

New York City is the largest and most densely populated city in the country. As a newly returned NYC native, I would have expected that the city would be closer to achieving its goal of being a true sustainability leader. But that just hasn’t been the case; while there have been significant gains, additional steps must be taken. For example, the bike solution Citi Bike NYC barely covers Manhattan, leaving out significant parts of the five boroughs. Also, the Wi-Fi solution through LinkNYC still requires a more comprehensive strategy to use its connectivity to catalyze economic development for local citizens and businesses.

My vision of a Smarter NYC has more gardens with an integrated transport solution that caters to all citizens’ needs with a significantly reduced carbon footprint. The benefits of a more walkable and bikeable city are immense and support many of the United Nations’ recently approved Sustainable Development Goals.

How can NYC move towards becoming a sustainable smart city?


4 sub-themes of sustainability:

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Energy: Growing cities require power. But energy derived from fossil fuels is unsustainable, and its use is detrimental to the quality of life because of its environmental impact. Green and renewable energy solutions provide a sustainable path for cities like to meet energy demands. Climate technology solutions in parallel with renewables can create a greener NYC.  



Agricultural: Although agriculture is rarely the first thing that comes to mind in an urban environment; the need for a sustainable food system demands consideration. NYC still has low-income neighborhoods where alcohol and cigarettes are usually the freshest products; this is unacceptable. Food deserts are a real problem and negatively impact the health and productivity of low-income residents. Technology is not the entire solution to ensuring access to fresh food for all; people-centered solutions such as farmers markets are also needed. Direct engagement with civic leaders and the broader community is a must.



Environmental:  A while back in Washington, D.C, the city decided to start charging customers for paper and plastic bags. Residents bristled at first, but eventually adapted to the change and started thinking more about the environmental impact of their behavior. The result: A significant reduction in trash and unnecessary use of plastic, which is harmful to the environment.

While the soda tax seeks to influence personal health decisions, the environmental benefits of a similar plastic/paper program have far-reaching advantages. For example, with summer fast approaching, a significant reduction of paper and plastic bags means less smelly, unnecessary waste.



Economic: Record real estate prices mean that NYC is increasingly becoming only for the wealthy. An economically sustainable New York requires wealth and prosperity for all. While there is progress with the pending hourly wage rate hike, more can be done to holistically support solutions that improve skills for residents to address a growing income inequality challenge not unique to NYC.

As technological advances continue to accelerate, cities must take measures to keep up. However smart a given solution is, long-term success requires a coordinated effort among all stakeholders.

Looking ahead, I plan to explore ideas around building smarter cities through Digital Districts — a concept building upon the idea that the Business Improvement Districts can become smart city hubs.

In conclusion, any system is only as strong as its weakest link. In cyber security, the human element is that link. In building smarter cities, an all-encompassing flexible framework is the link.  

I look forward to hearing your feedback.

- Busayo Odunlami

Busayo Odunalmi is the COO of Venture Smarter and a leading advocate of Smart Cities and Sustainability.

Busayo Odunalmi is the COO of Venture Smarter and a leading advocate of Smart Cities and Sustainability.