Where Smart Cities and Utilities Overlap

The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.

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The Limits of Data

When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.

So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?

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How Health Care Supports Sustainable Communities

If you want a healthier community, you don’t just treat illness. You prevent it. And you don’t prevent it by telling people to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. You help them find jobs and places to live and engaging schools so they can pass all that good on, so they can build solid futures and healthy neighborhoods and communities filled with hope.

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The City as an Instrument of Public Health

The concept of urban health is becoming an increasing concern as awareness of the true extent of the issue spreads. Particularly for health services in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), which are already struggling to cope with the burden of infectious diseases, the added pressure of NCDs poses a serious threat.

And yet, this does not need to be the case. There is positive work that can make an enormous difference to the health of city-dwellers. We need to close the gap between awareness and action, recognizing cities’ potential enabling features to address public health issues.

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Inclusion of Underserved Communities in the Mobility Innovation Economy

Inclusion of Underserved Communities in the Mobility Innovation Economy

The recent explosion of technology integration with the transportation industry has rapidly disrupted traditional transportation legacy planning methodologies. The number of options and the traveler information available to the everyday citizen has created a new dynamic in which anyone can call a car or request product delivery at the touch of a button. Cities across the nation are developing new smart city initiatives to integrate open data with new transportation systems so that people can move more freely in their communities. New public transportation systems are being thought of as critical foundational systems to the smart city initiatives that will get people out of their cars and into reduced carbon footprint transportation systems. Soon, artificial intelligence will be operating the nation’s transportation systems at maximum efficiency, and with reduced operating costs compared to the use of human capital.

However, as technological innovation continues to progress at light speed, the country’s underserved communities are continually left behind. With the United States projected to be a majority minority country by the year 2044, governmental policy and resources must be adjusted to meet the demands of our rapidly changing demographics.

New Public and Private Funding Strategies for Urban Parks

New Public and Private Funding Strategies for Urban Parks

Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.

These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.

California to be at 50% Renewable Energy by 2030

California to be at 50% Renewable Energy by 2030

In addition to meeting traditional electricity needs for homes and buildings, demand for electricity is growing with increased population, economic growth, water pumping, recycling and desalination, and millions traveling in electric cars, buses and rail. Although California has only 13 percent of the nation’s population, it has half the nation’s solar power, half the grid storage, and half the electric vehicles.

California is on track to use 50 percent renewables in 12 years. Today, California is coal free and nuke free, generating 40 percent of electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Wind and solar power are being added, often for less than four cents per kilowatt-hour. Renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage, microgrids, and software are enablers of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

On Benjamin Barber: Cities, democracy, and global governance

On Benjamin Barber: Cities, democracy, and global governance

The passing last month of visionary thinker Dr. Benjamin Barber occurred during a difficult stretch for democracy, the topic that animated Barber the most during his long career. A passionate advocate for democracy, Barber devoted his life to empowering citizens for democratic self-governance.

Barber’s contributions will be missed all the greater because he was more than a fascinating theorist; he put his ideas into practice, as the charismatic driving force behind the Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM). Launched in the Netherlands last September, GPM realizes Barber’s thinking: if cities are bastions of democracy, then cities need to become a more organized force at the global level. GPM advances this cause by giving cities as diverse as Athens, Buenos Aires, Oklahoma City, Rabat, and Seoul a platform on which their leaders can more easily connect, find practical solutions to common problems, and turn their collective ambition into independent action on the world stage.

One Payment System is Needed For All Transportation

One Payment System is Needed For All Transportation

One of the ironies of the advancements in mobility over the last decade has been the driving force of competition involved – and perhaps no development has affected the recent landscape more than the rise of ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Integration is a necessity for the future of mobility, extending to every aspect of the transportation infrastructure. From using one account to pay for journeys with multiple transit agencies to collecting valuable data in one database, the mobility industry will be at its most efficient when it is built upon unified solutions. And as executives, engineers, and thought leaders work for the next developments in mobility, it is imperative to acknowledge that we will only take our largest steps by working together toward integrated solutions.

Cities as Innovation Platform for Green Economic Development

Cities as Innovation Platform for Green Economic Development

Since 2010, the City of Vancouver has been executing on it’s world-acclaimed Greenest City Action Plan (GCAP) which aims to have Vancouver reduce its environmental impact, by a wide range of measures, and become the “greenest city in the world” by 2020. The plan is a bold one and has called on the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) and the City to support and enable innovation and innovators in new ways. Vancouver has transformed from a resource-based economy to a low-carbon, knowledge-based economy that can count over 20,000 “green jobs” representing more than 5% of today’s local workforce.

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