The pandemic, public safety, the climate crisis and rising inequality are among the top 2022 challenges confronting cities.
By Cailin Crowe, Danielle McLean, Maria Rachal, Dan Zukowski and Jason Plautz
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series on the trends that will shape the smart cities industry in 2022.
Here’s the good news: With federal relief funds and the $1 trillion infrastructure legislation that passed last year, cities will have new resources to tackle challenges such as making public transportation more equitable and accommodating growing numbers of electric vehicles hitting the streets. If the Build Back Better bill becomes law, additional financial resources could help cities reduce greenhouse emissions and continue to grow the momentum around decarbonizing their building stocks.
The bad news is that many serious issues cities have been facing in the past two years remain or have gotten worse. City leaders are grappling with the rising cost of housing, which has left many financially insecure. They are adapting to worsening and more frequent extreme weather events such as record-breaking heat, wildfires, winter storms and hurricanes. They are looking for new workers who can fill the many vacant public transportation jobs. And they are addressing rising crime rates amid calls for policing reform.
With the input of experts and researchers, Smart Cities Dive dug into these topics to look at how eight of the biggest trends facing cities will play out in 2022.
Crime and policing will continue to be top of mind for local leaders
From Philadelphia to Tucson, Arizona, over two-thirds of the country’s 40 most populous cities experienced higher rates of homicide in 2021 compared with the year prior, in many cases surpassing or nearly reaching record highs, according to CNN. As a result, public safety will likely remain a top priority for local leaders in 2022.
Crime and policing were key issues in many high-profile mayoral elections last November. Some of the winners promised to increase police presence in cities to mitigate crime, a stark contrast to the nationwide calls just a year prior to defund police departments.
Meanwhile, other local leaders and their constituents continue to advocate for and implement various police reforms, particularly pushing for stronger police oversight as some cities respond to the spike in crime by increasing police budgets.
Transit agencies will continue to focus on equity
The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the national racial awakening over the past two years, brought equity issues to the fore in public transportation, where high fares and cutbacks in service have disproportionately affected low-income communities and communities of color.
Some transit systems reduced or eliminated fares for all riders or only for specific groups, such as seniors or low-income individuals. Buses in Kansas City, Worcester, Massachusetts, Richmond, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina, are free to ride, and Boston’s new mayor wants to move in that direction.
However, transit ridership remains depressed as waves of COVID variants continue to upset once-normal work and personal travel patterns. That puts a strain on revenues for transit providers, potentially limiting an agency’s ability to continue low or zero-fare programs.
Expect public transportation agencies to begin tapping the $89.9 billion in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds for public transit this year to buy more zero-emission buses, add dedicated bus lanes and upgrade bus shelters and train stations. Transit agencies in New York City, Los Angeles and Boston are also reorganizing their bus networks to provide more and better service to the communities that rely most on transit.
Agencies will continue working to engage local communities during the planning process for major construction projects, changes in service and new initiatives. New York and Atlanta are among those holding virtual public meetings and conducting other outreach to get input on their plans.
At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $1 billion in discretionary grants to 90 projects in 47 states through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program. Among other criteria, the RAISE program emphasizes projects that create good-paying jobs, address climate change and advance racial equity.
Smart city leaders will continue to collaborate across regions and organizations
The trend of regional smart city consortiums and their private partners joining forces will likely continue in the year ahead as smart city leaders seek to learn from each other and make more data-informed decisions while also leveraging new federal dollars.
Last fall, seven regional consortiums formed the National Smart Coalitions Partnership, one of the largest smart cities networks in the U.S., which now represents over 100 local governments.
That national partnership formed on the heels of the creation of a new lobbying group, The Coalition for Urban Innovation, which includes key industry groups and companies like the Smart Cities Council, Replica, and Via Transportation. As coalition advisory board member, urbanist and University of Toronto professor Richard Florida explained in an earlier email interview, federal investments in urban policy and innovation are fragmented across a host of cabinet agencies, thus better coordination could make those investments more efficient and impactful.