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Do Or Die: Cities Face Falling Behind If They Don’t Implement Digital Infrastructure


Smart technology is changing how cities are run, how residents live and how businesses attract employees. For the last decade, cities have been building high-speed internet and using digital technology to expand city services.

Cities implementing these changes will improve the lives of residents, be more attractive to employers, increase real estate values and stand out within the international marketplace.

“Smart cities are much more livable, safer and vibrant and have more economic opportunities and workability,” Smart Cities Council Chairman Jesse Berst said. “It’s really essential for cities that want to compete in the global economy and want to attract jobs and talent.”

Cities that do not make these changes are at risk of falling behind. Even cities in the beating heart of the tech industry, such as San Jose, are running up against the challenge of a city hall with out-of-date technology. But implementation does not happen overnight and takes years of planning and significant financial resources.

How can budget-strapped cities provide much-needed digital infrastructure without the proper funds to do so? Enter public-private partnerships backing smart technology. Without these partnerships, cities run the risk of losing out in the smart city technology race.

Dallas’ West End is one U.S. city using public-private partnerships to get smarter. LED street lamps send notifications when bulbs are out. Interactive kiosks provide passers-by with city information and a place to charge phones. In the coming months, the neighborhood will have public WiFi, smart parking where people can reserve spots, trash cans with sensors that monitor capacity and better water management systems.

“Cities that approach this [technology] five to 10 years before they are forced to will really reap dramatic benefits and economic development,” Dallas Innovation Alliance Executive Director Jennifer Sanders said.

The Dallas Innovation Alliance, a public-private partnership among 30 organizations, is leading the implementation of smart technology. The DIA also is testing environmental sensors that can provide granular data on particulate matter in the air, according to Sanders. This data can be used to provide allergen alerts so citizens can adjust their days and lessen allergy symptoms. The organization wants to tackle food deserts and find ways to bring healthy food to more people, such as through on-demand food trucks serving healthy food.

Dallas is not alone in its endeavor to become a smart city. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., are among U.S. cities actively pursuing smart city technology. Many more cities around the world are integrating digital infrastructure. While each city is doing things differently, they are all implementing high-speed broadband internet and improving city services.

The U.S. has a lot of catching up to do. Current efforts are years away from full implementation. Smart Cities Council's Berst said the whole process is a 20- to 30-year journey. U.S. cities are years behind Singapore, Spain, Dubai, Copenhagen, Vienna and several cities in China.

Spain’s first smart city, Barcelona, is among the smartest European cities. It has been building dozens of smart systems, including a smart irrigation system that collects data such as humidity, temperature and sunlight, which allow city landscapers to figure out a water schedule that does not lead to overwatering. Annual water savings is expected to be $555K each year.

Barcelona, which began implementation of its smart city initiatives in the early 2000s, also has one of Europe’s best and cleanest public transit systems with bus stops powered via solar energy, a significant bike-sharing system with at least 6,000 bikes, a trash system that sucks trash below ground, smart lighting and a plethora of apps residents and visitors can use to help them get around.

What Is A Smart City And Why Should We Care?

Smart cities start with d