Virginia to build $500M ‘smart city in-a-box’

Gramercy District aims to perfect a ‘smart city’ formula that is reusable anywhere across the U.S. or around the world.

Many cities worldwide are earning high marks for their smarts nowadays, whether for acting to add redundant infrastructure or for creating digital overlays that better integrate sustainable upgrades to water, waste, transportation, and energy systems.

Of course, even the most innovative municipalities still have far to go, but for now, all of us can take solace in knowing that the ‘smart city’ movement globally is finally moving inland off the beachhead, from concept to reality. In the U.S., more governments, businesses, and residents now at least understand the idea, and many are embracing it, regardless of whether their motivation for doing so is economic or environmental. In other words, it’s a ‘smart’ play.

Some 30 miles northwest of Washington DC, the bedroom community of Ashburn VA (pop. 43,000) learned last month that a long-discussed plan for the Gramercy District, a $500-million, 2.5-million-sq-ft, ‘smart city’ now has enough critical mass to break ground next spring in Loudoun County. On Aug. 9, Chantilly VA-based venture builder 22 Capital Partners announced the formation of 22 CityLink, a collaborative network charged with creating a Smart City In-a-Box technology platform.

“We believe that modern technology is going to be a major force in urbanization projects and can improve the overall quality of life for the citizen”

— MInh Le, Managing partner, 22 Capital Partners
22CP: Minh Le

Toward that end, 22 CityLink “is focused on building key partnerships in technology, academia, local, state, and federal government agencies to help develop new governance models and integrated technology real estate development approaches required for next generation urbanization projects,” explained Minh Le, 22 Capital Partners’ managing partner, and a former managing director with Accenture. “We believe that modern technology is going to be a major force in urbanization projects and can improve the overall quality of life for the citizen.”

Aiming to revolutionize real estate development “holistically”, 22 CityLink proclaims on its website that it is now in the process of assembling “a world class team of engineers, architects, technologists, and serial entrepreneurs… to create a platform to build smart cities.” 

Earlier this week, that team — which already includes giants Microsoft and AECOM — added Avaya as a “foundation technology partner” for its Smart City In-a-Box platform. Last month, 22 Capital Partners also announced a new partnership with the Center for Innovative Technology and George Washington University. The university already is working with the D.C. government’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer on the Pennsylvania Avenue 2040 Environmental Sensing Project in Washington DC, and is part of the MetroLab Network, a national smart cities initiative for municipalities and research institutions.

Specifically, plans for the Gramercy District Smart City call for a 350,000-sq-ft office building, 900 residential units, an 85,000-sq-ft hotel, 34,000 sq-ft of retail, a business center, parking facilities, outdoor plazas and public spaces. Phase 1A will include 268 luxury apartments, 25,800 sq ft of retail space and a “technology accelerator with full inter-connectivity to smart applications,” says 22 CityLink.

DVA Architects & Interiors, Gaithersburg MD, is the project designer, and a joint venture of AECOM subsidiary Tishman Construction, NYC, and TRINITY Group Construction, Herndon VA, is the contractor. “The project highlights the transformative role that cutting-edge technology is playing in today’s buildings,” said Dan McQuade, group president of AECOM Construction Services. “We are thrilled to be at the forefront of constructing a new wave of smart cities.”

intelligent, sentient, interconnected

Many details remain sketchy, but Le told reporters that Gramercy’s intelligent framework likely will align with or incorporate aspects of the Microsoft CityNext program, a broad, international platform launched in 2013 that now deploys cloud technology, mobile devices, data analytics and social networks for functions connecting energy, water, infrastructure, transportation, public safety, education, health, social services and government agencies.

“We believe that technology is going to be a major force and driver in the way people live, the way people learn, the way people socialize,” Le noted. No stranger to digital technologies, his tenure at Accenture included work with the Internet of Things (IoT), analytics and cloud-based solutions. He later focused on predictive data and ‘big data’ management before pivoting toward real estate.

Not everyone sees the connection. So, making it plain is now a big part of Le’s new mission. Here’s how the 22 CityLink website spells that out:

  • Bridging the gap between technology and real estate has always been a challenge, but by controlling the whole development process, a holistic approach can be taken across the project that will enable universal access to infrastructure, device end-points and information. The consumer engagement platform houses applications where cognitive computing and predictive analytics services can deliver value-added experiences. By integrating connected health, intelligent buildings, smart retail, and improved safety into one experience, it will be possible to create a system that is both efficient, convenient and personalized for each consumer, with improved operational performance for business, retail and public safety.