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City Living: CU Denver and Colorado Smart Cities Alliance Partnership Addresses Growing Need for Urban Solutions

Chancellor Michelle Marks gives opening remarks for week-long Smart Cities conference on pressing issues facing cities 

May 31, 2022

Aging infrastructure. Traffic. Air pollution. These are some of the challenges cities worldwide are increasingly facing. Though 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas today, that number is expected to increase to 70% by 2050. As the state’s only public urban research university and a premiere partner to the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, CU Denver is providing research, education, and talent to find next-generation solutions for metropolitan challenges.  

“Our value—and that of all urban research universities—lies in our location,” said Chancellor Michelle Marks, who was invited to kick off the internationally recognized Smart Cities Week at the Convention Center on May 23. “Our partnerships with the city and exposure to a wide range of industries working on a global scale gives us first-hand knowledge of the needs our communities face. This in turn boosts our innovative capacity.”  

Chancellor Michelle Marks kicks off the internationally recognized Smart Cities Week at the Convention Center on May 23.

Co-hosted by the Smart Cities Council, Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, National Smart Coalitions Partnership, and the Wireless Infrastructure Association, and sponsored by Dense Networks, Smart Cities Week is a thinktank for hundreds of startup companies, businesses, policy makers, city builders, innovators, and technologists to explore pressing issues facing cities worldwide. This year’s conference focused on three key themes: transportation, data analysis, and partnerships, according to CU Denver alum Tyler Svitak ’12 GES, who is the executive director for the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance.  

“Our partnership with CU Denver is incredibly important because the issues cities are trying to solve can’t be solved by cities alone,” Svitak said. “Having a research partner at the table helps us evaluate success and ensure that we are moving the needle forward.”  

2030 Strategic Plan: Impetus for Smart Cities Partnership  

CU Denver alum Tyler Svitak ’12 GES, executive director for the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance

In August 2021, CU Denver and the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance (the Alliance)—which is a nonprofit organization that brings together government, businesses and allied organizations to improve life for all Coloradans—announced a new strategic partnership to build on their previous collaborations and bridge the nation’s largest statewide smart cities ecosystem with Colorado’s only public urban research university.    

Svitak said the catalyst for the partnership was the university’s robust 2030 Strategic Plan—in particular its goals to create an open innovation district in downtown Denver and solve some of society’s grand challenges through world-class research. “More importantly, the university is building the workforce pipeline of the future,” Svitak said. “Because CU Denver is centered in such an urban setting, we see a really important role of the university to ensure students know of the workforce opportunities and to be a partner in ensuring our city is as livable and healthy as it can be in the long-term.”   

A milestone for this partnership, Svitak noted, is the university’s new engineering building, which will serve as the anchor for the open innovation district. Martin Dunn, dean of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing, said the building will amplify CU Denver’s research in important areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and robotics—fields that drive a lot of the initiatives smart cities employ by transforming health, construction, manufacturing, and urban infrastructure.   

CU Denver’s Research and Programs Support Smart City Solutions  

Through its physical office at InWorks in the CU Denver Building, the Alliance’s staff have access to the university’s world-class faculty and students, and the Alliance brings a built-in ecosystem of government and business stakeholders. In her opening remarks for Smart Cities Week, Marks shared a few examples of the transformative work being done through the partnership:  

  • CU Denver’s engineering researchers, in partnership with the Alliance, have created a Multi-Business Commute Optimization System designed to help commuters and minimize environmental impact. Case study results indicate that widespread adoption of the system could result in a 9.3% reduction in business-related emissions and a 4% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in Colorado within three to six years.  
  • Faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and College of Architecture and Planning are working to make low-cost sensors, which smartphone apps heavily rely on to give users data on air pollution and wildfire smoke, more reliable and consistent.   
  • The College of Engineering, Design and Computing’s micro-credential in electric vehicle technology, spearheaded by Electrical Engineering Professor Jaedo Park and proposed jointly by the Departments of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, teaches students the fundamentals of electric powertrains and aerodynamics that will power the future.  
  • Last fall, the university launched a new graduate certificate in Smart Cities offered in a flexible, online-only format to accommodate all types of learners. The certificate has sequences designed for current public sector professionals, technologists and entrepreneurs, and architects and planners.  
  • In Urban and Regional Planning Department Assistant Professor Priyanka DeSouza’s graduate data science course this fall, students will work with real-world city datasets to inform policy and infrastructure improvements, including analysis of air quality, micro mobility, and traffic data from around the Denver area. 

This work will continue to expand as CU Denver makes progress on its strategic goals and cultivates partnerships in the community and beyond. CU Denver and the Alliance will work together to support this work, finding innovative ways to provide communities throughout Colorado with access to new technologies that foster the growth of smart cities, while preparing students for the workforce of the future.    

“Our students are the ones who, after graduating, become the doers that help organizations implement, integrate, and advance those smart city solutions,” Marks said. “The job of urban research universities then is to foster this next generation of people who work on smart cities. And CU Denver does that by elevating the importance of thinking about smart cities in multiple ways.”