How smart of a city is Lansing?

What makes a city smart? Ian MacFarlane, a consultant for National Geographic Channel’s Smart Cities program describes it this way: “A city needs a heart and soul—typically the center, where people congregate for work and leisure. Smart cities are well-connected locally and internationally, have a sustainable lifestyle, and are places where people come first.”

The term ‘smart city’ also refers to an emerging conceptual view defining cities that promote the use of information and communication technologies to engage citizens and develop social and intellectual capital. Encouraging this type of engagement is thought to make better use of hard infrastructure, reduce usage of environmental capital and support innovation. Lansing is a city that encourages this type of engagement in a growing number of ways.

Smart cities, by default, are cities with a strong sense of place, and an understanding of the many aspects of community and connectedness that contribute to its intelligence and appeal.

Lansing is home to many organizations serving to make it great. LEAP, the NEO Center and the Allen Neighborhood Center are just a few that have established smart partnerships and seek to develop smart programs that push Lansing on its way to being a smarter city.

"Lansing is a smart city for plenty of reasons. We have a wealth of resources that are unique to our region. That puts us in a great position to be one of the most innovative in the entire state,”  says Tony Willis, the Business Acceleration Manager at LEAP.”

“Being the capital city, home to a top-tier global research university, surrounded by numerous headquarters of fortune 500 companies - these are a few of the resources that help keep the Lansing region stable, and ripe with new ideas. Lansing also has a deep history of manufacturing as well as the infrastructure to create some of the best products to compete on a global market."

LEAP, the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, provides resources to entrepreneurs and business people for new projects and economic development, and is just one of many area partnerships leading the way to make Lansing and its surrounding community as smart as it can be.

"We focus directly on business development, talent and entrepreneurship. We use financial, social, and intellectual capital to keep our region as competitive as possible and help promote innovation in every form," adds Willis. "LEAP has programs in place like the Business Accelerator Fund to assist tech related companies reach milestones, and starting next year we will have our FUNDLansing Revolving Loan fund."

LEAP helped create 2,885 direct private sector jobs and $565,064,000 in total direct private sector investment for the counties it represents in the past two years. As such, LEAP is a major contributor to Lansing’s competitive edge based on Lansing knowledge clusters, people-led innovation and global networking.

LEAP has partnered with MSU across many different smart platforms including Spartan Innovations, MSU Extension, MSU Technologies, MSU Outreach and Engagement and others. But MSU--also historically known as Ag U--and its partnership with LEAP, helps Lansing and the surrounding communities by contributing approximately $450 million each year to the local economy and provides more than 5,000 jobs to local residents. Economic development planning on a regional level that views the agricultural sector as an asset and supports agriculture industries helps the Lansing community ensure prosperity.

"I think Lansing is a smart city because we are finally investing in the opportunities and potential that already exist here. If we want our city to become great, we must continue to focus I'm growing local organizations and talent," says Thomas Stewart, Managing Partner at the NEO Center, a Lansing based business incubator.

Places like the Allen Neighborhood Center serve as a hub for capacity building, neighborhood enhancement and for activities that promote health, safety, stability and the economic well-being of Lansing residents and other stakeholders.

“ANC works closely with neighborhood residents and other stakeholders to identify challenges and opportunities, and to develop strategies for addressing them,” says Joan Nelson Executive Director of Allen Neighborhood Center.

The Allen Neighborhood Center has put together multiple programs over the last 12 years to better their surrounding community.

“For instance, over 12 years ago, we hosted neighborhood forums and surveys that revealed food insecurity and barriers to accessing nutritious food. Over time, we worked with partners to develop a set of synergistic projects that include Breadbasket, our weekly pantry which began in 2000,” says Nelson.

“The Allen Street Farmers Market which started in 2004 as a seasonal, warm weather market -and as of November 2013, providing year-round access to locally grown and produced food-, and the Hunter Park GardenHouse which was established in 2008 to serve as a year-round gardening education hub. Our latest food-related programs are the incubator Kitchen and the Exchange food hub to build on these earlier programs and further ameliorate food insecurity and food access challenges.”

The Allen Neighborhood Center plays host to the Allen Street Farmers Market giving agricultural business and other small businesses the ability to sell their products in an urban setting where they might not have that opportunity elsewhere. The Allen Street Farmers Market is every Wednesday from 3pm until 6:30pm.

The Allen Neighborhood Center and Allen Marketplace have developed the Allen Marketplace Wholesale Exchange where farmers and producers can register their products to connect with area wholesale buyers. This serves as a great resource for those distributors who don’t always have the greatest access to urban resources.

Transportation, when implemented correctly, can play a major role making an average city a smart city. With Uber making its way through major cities across the U.S., smaller “uber-less” big cities need to find ways to implement Uber’s offerings in a new and innovative way to take advantage of its smart service.

Jose Ramirez is the owner of DriverOnTap, an Uber partnership app that allows users to connect with an affordable designated driver, within a 25-mile radius of Lansing and East Lansing.

“DriverOnTap is our vision of what a designated driver service should be. You can enjoy a ride in your own car without having to make a friend your designated driver. That way, everyone can enjoy the night and make the responsible choice, and your car ends up where you are at the end of the night,” said Ramirez. “The goal is to get you and your car where you need to be without any hassle or risk.”

DriverOnTap is a modern take on taxicab services. Allowing for safer means of transportation is just a start. DriverOnTap can be utilized for any reason, not just as a designated driver.

“Just like you would call and ask for a cab, you call and ask for a DriverOnTap,” says Ramirez.

Lansing continues to create new, smart ways of being a smarter city. As technological advancements surface, smart businesses and partnerships will continue to innovate showcasing our state capital as a smart city.

Jared Field is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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