Beyond Crypto: Blockchain for Urban Development

You are here

MTI researchers explore the potential of decentralized systems–like blockchain technology–for financing and delivering urban infrastructure and services
August 30, 2022
San José, CA

Many global cities face crumbling transportation infrastructure, housing shortages, and insufficient capacity to provide municipal services. New Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) research, Blockchain and Distributed Autonomous Community Ecosystems: Opportunities to Democratize Finance and Delivery of Transport, Housing, Urban Greening and Community Infrastructure, investigates and develops specifications for using blockchain and distributed organizations to enable decentralized delivery and financing of urban infrastructure to create opportunities to empower individual citizens and communities to solve these pressing issues.

Blockchain technology is a distributed database (a database that consists of two or more files located in different sites either on the same network or on entirely different networks) storing information digitally. While blockchain use is best known for cryptocurrency systems like Bitcoin, the decentralized system provides data storage security, instant processing, and reduces the cost of a transaction. These processes have the potential for creating new economic value for cities and neighborhoods through proof-of-work, which can be issued through a token (possibly a graphic non-fungible token), certificate, or possible financial reward. In other words, this process might enable communities and citizens more hands-on opportunities to fund and find faster solutions than relying on government and other stakeholders they cannot control.

A sample of community infrastructure that can benefit from decentralized systems of financing include:

  • Urban greening for streets and parcels: tree permitting and planting along roadways
  • Commercial agreements and contracts for street / municipal infrastructure and services: street sweeping, pickup, garbage collection, bike / scooter system rebalancing
  • Land rights allocation and development for things such as parklets, on-street dining, and even housing / homelessness services.

“In the systems we have now, a citizen wanting to get a tree planted in an urban space would need to fill out an application, turn it into the city, have it reviewed and approved by the city, etc. Blockchain technology potentially streamlines this process with a decentralized app accessible to all stakeholders,” explain the study’s authors. “All of the processes—where the tree should be planted, where and when it was planted—can be recorded on the blockchain with other useful information such as whether more trees are needed in that location, which types of trees have been planted where, carbon value, community value and property appreciation, etc.”

With a clear workflow, required steps and validation via community agreement, and other protocols in place on the community blockchain; decentralized and distributed activity can be effectively coordinated to produce value for the community as a whole. Blockchain technology has the potential to empower local governments and other agencies to build trust with citizens, increase transparency, reduce costs and improve efficiency, and protect sensitive data while providing validation. Today public works spends close to $350 billion in the U.S. and deliver an insufficient product to solve urban problems, but tomorrow cities and citizens might be able to self-organize and create their own organizations to solve urban problems funded through new technologies such as blockchain.

MTI will be hosting a webinar on this topic on September 15, 2022.


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

William (Billy) Riggs, PhD, AICP, LEED AP is an MTI Research Associate and a global expert and thought leader in the areas of automation and future transportation, clean technology, and urban development and city planning. He is also a professor and program director at the University of San Francisco School of Management. Vipul Vyas is a professor of management at the University of San Francisco, and has been a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley for the past 20 years. He is the Senior Vice President of Vertical Strategy at Persado, an AI platform that uses and transforms language into a growth lever for business, and the co-founder of healthcare start-up SymphonyRM. Menka Sethi is an accomplished senior executive, consultant, and professor in the field of real estate development and finance, sustainable technology and business strategy. She is a member of the senior leadership team at Juno, a San Francisco housing technology startup, an adjunct faculty in real estate at CalPoly San Luis Obispo, and an advisor to numerous companies and organizations.

Media Contact:

Mineta Transportation Institute
O: 408-924-7560

Contact Us

SJSU Research Foundation   210 N. 4th Street, 4th Floor, San Jose, CA 95112    Phone: 408-924-7560   Email: