An upbeat look at the Wilmington of the future

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James Lee’s third annual forecast focused on cities, specifically Wilmington.

The forecast is a mainstay of the January meeting of the Delaware Technology Forum on Wednesday night.

Wilmington, despite its urban problems,  has vast potential, Lee said at the event held at the  Delaware  Biotechnology  Institute in Newark. Lee heads Wilmington-based Stratfi, an investment firm that focuses on future trends.

“Cities and universities are idea factories,”  Lee said in kicking off his presentation.

Despite its widely publicized urban ills, Wilmington and surrounding areas come with numerous advantages that include low overall taxes, a strategic location, as well as sizable legal and healthcare communities.

The city’s location is a major advantage, according to Lee, who noted that a trip to the Philadelphia International Airport from Wilmington, is often a  shorter drive than from other Philly suburbs.

Lee noted that Incyte Corp., headquartered just outside Wilmington, is pioneering innovative drugs used in cancer treatment.

The legal community could make Wilmington a  center for “smart contracts” that use blockchain technologies to monitor performance and other matters.

Recently, the  Wilmington Board of Trade received an investment from a foreign company. The investor was drawn to the stock exchange’s work in blockchain, a technology that allows documents to move around and remain secure.

Meanwhile, legislation signed by Gov. John Carney last year could move  Wilmington and other Delaware communities toward the Internet of Things by clearing the way for small antennas that could connect various systems and services.

One example of a connected city can be seen in Pittsburgh. The city has “smart traffic lights” that monitor traffic and cut commuting times.   

The wired city also sets the stage for autonomous (driverless)  vehicles that travel city streets and could serve as a “side gig” for owners by operating as taxis.

Long before we see driverless vehicles,  Wilmington and other cities could be the home of  “vertical farms” that are already in operation in  Philadelphia and other cities.

Wilmington is well suited to grow areas in warehouses and other buildings, due to a location close to population centers where chefs seek out fresh produce and vegetables that have been shipped less than 150 miles. Efficiencies in urban farming have improved rapidly, Lee noted. Moreover,  urban farms do not require pesticides.

One proposed project is Second Chance. The  10,000-square-foot  urban farm on the East Side of Wilmington would employ persons released from prison and who often have trouble finding work.

Wilmington resident Ajit George, who is spearheading the initiative,  told Tech Forum members that mushroom growers in the Kennett Square, PA area are also eyeing northern Delaware locations for specialty mushrooms, due, in part,  to a worsening labor shortage and technology that makes the fungi better neighbors.

George said he is not involved with other urban farming proposals.

Also in the works in many cities are even more efficient skyscraper farms as well as rooftop farms, Lee said.

The future outlined by Lee does not come without challenges. One attendee noted that the trend toward electric cars does not necessarily mean cleaner air, if the increased amount of electricity comes from non-renewable sources such as coal or natural gas.

While smart technologies may make parking spaces easier to find, roads could take a beating with increased use of driverless vehicles.

The Delaware Technology Forum holds monthly networking and educational events.  Membership is open to businesses and people with an interest in technology.