The Internet of Things: Creating responsible smart cities the focus of new $1.2 million Knight Foundation support – Knight Foundation

The Internet of Things: Creating responsible smart cities the focus of new $1.2 million Knight Foundation support

Funding to help city governments launch projects in Akron, Ohio; Boston; Detroit; Miami; Philadelphia; and San Jose, Calif.

New York—April 21, 2017— As smart technology becomes a pervasive part of our everyday lives—from what we wear to how we interact with our environment—cities have a big role to play in ensuring that it is applied in the public interest. To this end, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced $1.2 million in support to six cities to explore how the Internet of Things (IoT) – the connection of everyday objects to the Internet – can be deployed in cities in responsible and equitable ways.

The city governments receiving support include: Akron, Ohio; Boston; Detroit; Miami;
Philadelphia; and San José, Calif.

“As cities increasingly use the Internet of Things to reduce costs, increase sustainability and improve services, we need to be acutely aware of its impact — both good and bad,” said John S. Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for technology innovation. “These cities will help create a model and guidelines for the thoughtful and responsible use of IoT, linking its development to the public’s benefit.”

IoT holds tremendous potential for cities. Major metro areas from Los Angeles to Singapore are using smart technology to manage traffic, conserve water and energy and participate in government.  In New York, IoT is helping track residents’ and environmental data to monitor pedestrian traffic flow, while in Barcelona the government is streamlining waste management with smart bins that alert garbage trucks when to collect them.

At the same time, IoT raises privacy concerns. Sensors, cameras and databases have the ability to document and collect personal information, conversations and even movements. It can also put the security of our information at risk.

The cities receiving funding aim to address these challenges by developing ways to build IoT in beneficial but responsible ways. They include:  

City of Akron ($200,000): Akron will develop a smart city strategy and undertake a pilot project to develop it. The city will use IoT technologies to overhaul the Main Street corridor in the downtown central business district, as part of the pilot.

City of Boston ($200,000): Boston will “open source” city assets by creating a process and platform for researchers, advocates, startups and citizens to place sensing technologies in urban environments for research toward the public good. The initiative will be part of the city’s Beta Blocks program, which uses designated areas in the city as testing grounds for smart technology.

City of Detroit ($200,000): Detroit will develop a strategic plan, including guidelines to implement, support and use IoT in Detroit, and create a catalog of Detroit’s existing IoT assets. The plan will further identify strategies to increase the amount of open data available through the city’s existing assets and identify ways to apply smart city applications to current infrastructure, including improved use of predictive analytics.

City of Miami ($200,000): Miami will build on its resilience strategy, focusing on infrastructure mapping and strengthening its ability to share data with community partners for collaborative problem solving. The city will create an integrated plan identifying the IoT technologies, data processes and high-impact solutions that most benefit the region.

City of Philadelphia ($200,000): Philadelphia will develop a smart city roadmap. The plan will outline strategies to implement, support and use smart technology and systems effectively and efficiently, and outline financial needs for the project. The city also will invite community input into the process, to ensure the plan reflects the needs of its residents and businesses.

City of San José ($200,000): San Jose will support IoT strategic planning, which will inform decisions about where to invest, how to finance the necessary infrastructure, and how to regulate smart technology assets. It will also outline a strategy to develop effective partnerships with the private sector that preserves public assets and data privacy.

To further explore how cities are using IoT, Knight Foundation is investing in research and exploration in this area. In partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Knight is also announcing support for the MetroLab Network, a group of universities and city governments working on technical solutions to urban challenges. In May, MetroLab Network’s Roundtable on Urban Instrumentation will bring together local government officials including those from the above cities, as well as academics, industry and nonprofit representatives to discuss and publish short reports on the opportunities and issues associated with sensor technologies. In addition, Knight is supporting a series of convenings led by the Harvard University Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society that explore how cities approach the implementation of IoT. Read a report produced through findings from the first convening here:

Funding for these projects is part of Knight Foundation’s participation in NetGain, a partnership of four leading foundations – Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Mozilla Foundation and Open Society Foundations – to explore public interest technology issues. In February 2016, the NetGain Partnership announced $18 million in support to develop the talent and capacity of people using tech skills to improve civil society and government at all levels. Since 2016, NetGain foundations have provided $4 million in support for IoT research and initiatives. 

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit


Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, [email protected]