- Portland State University (PSU) in Oregon has created two research centers — one for homelessness and one for smart city technology — to address what it says are some of the city's most pressing challenges, including environmental sustainability, homelessness and traffic.
- The PSU Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative will work to find solutions to lower homelessness rates. The PSU Digital City Testbed Center will examine the use of technology to improve safety, accessibility and health in cities while privacy, security and equity concerns. The Testbed Center will work with colleges, private companies and public entities in the region to test new technologies before they are installed.
- The research centers will be located on the main PSU campus in downtown Portland. The university will provide $3 million in seed funding ($500,000 annually for each center) over three years. The centers must source additional funding from external groups and will focus on federal agencies.
Establishing these centers has been a top priority for PSU President Rahmat Shoureshi since he took office a year ago. He told the Portland Tribune that his goal was to differentiate the centers from others like them around the country and to ensure they have a significant impact. More than 200 PSU researchers contributed to 28 proposals for core topics the centers could cover, with homelessness and smart city technology ultimately being chosen.
Shoureshi said he hopes to establish seven such centers on the PSU campus, according to Oregon Live. The initial two are pilot programs, and if they don't prove to be financially self-supporting, they will be swapped out for other ideas.
Portland itself has jumped into the smart city space with technology such as air sensors, and the new PSU centers should help the city identify other problems that can be addressed with emerging technology. The Digital City Testbed Center commitment to helping leaders and stakeholders test technologies before implementing them could save the city time and reduce the risks associated with spending taxpayer money on relatively unproven technologies.
As in many West Coast cities right now, homelessness is a growing concern in Portland, especially as the city feels the effects of the housing affordability crisis. The city recently commissioned an independent cost estimate for creating 2,000 units of supportive housing, which came out to between $592 million and $640 million over the first 10 years, with $43 million to $47 million needed annually for continued operations. The new Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative could help the city develop more cost-effective and successful programs to mitigate homelessness.