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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Bus Stops and the Future of Digital Placemaking

Bus Stops and the Future of Digital Placemaking

As two officials of a distressed public agency facing down the consequences of a long history of underinvestment, we are acutely sensitive to the need to get things done on a budget. We are also technologists, which brings us to the idea and potential of digital placemaking for mobility infrastructure: the repurposing of web, mobile and other software and hardware tools to bring new value to the places around the physical nodes and artifacts of the transit system.

Digital tools are often limited to a public engagement role in placemaking. We believe that they can play an important role in transit agency efforts to make its physical infrastructure work better for people.

Towards a New Digital Deal

Towards a New Digital Deal

Communities around the world are accelerating their response to the current wave of digital innovations and they have good reason to. Digitalization can be considered a critical ingredient in the recipe of our sustainable communities of today and tomorrow – in the broadest sense of the word – economically, socially and environmentally. Digitalization carries the means and the organizational paradigm to not just do things slightly more efficiently, but differently and better. The design shift it affords can help us collectively tackle some of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced, such as climate change, the need for sustainable and affordable energy, fair and sufficient levels of water and food distribution, and education and healthcare for all in a world where the population continues to grow. And of course, it should help us arrive at solutions and services that will allow burgeoning cities to thrive.

Green Buildings in Sustainable Communities: Everybody Wins

Green Buildings in Sustainable Communities: Everybody Wins

Green buildings support the goals of sustainable communities and vice versa. When office, apartment and retail properties are built and managed sustainably, the surrounding neighborhood benefits. Likewise, a community that enables a sustainable, live-work-play lifestyle enhances the long-term relevancy of green buildings within its borders.

These communities often promote job growth by creating environments for start-ups to thrive. In addition, companies in many business sectors are locating offices in sustainable urban neighborhoods in order to attract the college-educated millennials who live there.  As they grow, companies lease office space in buildings they believe will help them attract talented employees—and sustainability is an important part of that appeal.

Urban Planning to Mitigate Urban Heat Island Effect

Urban Planning to Mitigate Urban Heat Island Effect

In 2014, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs announced that the majority of humans were residing in urban environments for the first time in recorded history. As the world’s population centers become more densely urbanized, average temperatures in these areas are on the rise. The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect can be felt on any typical hot and sunny day in cities like Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. In the middle of the city, concrete highways and structures absorb UV rays from the sun and radiate heat into the surrounding area. If you were to venture outside of these cities to less densely populated rural areas, you may find temperatures up to 27℉ lower.

This vast increase in temperature isn’t only an issue while the sun is out. Nighttime temperatures in urban areas have been found to be as much as 22℉  higher than air temperatures in neighboring, less developed areas. The UHI effect is exacerbated by removing green spaces, which leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution levels. Removing green spaces puts a strain on other critical urban infrastructure such as the energy grid, water quality and public health systems. Redeveloping underutilized land, such as vacant lots or former industrial and commercial sites, presents excellent opportunities to rethink UHI mitigating factors such as the urban tree canopy, green roofs, and other issues related to site design and building materials. Land recycling presents an opportunity to design from the ground up in anticipation of the our changing climate and the demands it will place on all of us.

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.

Transportation Communications: No One Told Me It Would Be This Hard

Transportation Communications: No One Told Me It Would Be This Hard

As the leader of a transportation agency, there is no shortage of people ready to tell me how technology is going to revolutionize the way we do business. Autonomous vehicles, on-demand sensors, drone-based package delivery, solar-powered roads, road-straddling super-buses (that one turned out to a bust); it’s a veritable cornucopia of real and not-so-real revolutions. And within that world of technophiles, there’s a subset waiting to tell me (and you) about how wireless communications will underlie and enable all of those revolutions to our transportation systems. As with so many things in life, they’re totally right, and yet it’s so much more complicated.

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Creating Community Resilience in Every City

In recent months, people have taken to the streets of Washington, D.C. for marches urging the Trump administration and Congress to act on climate change.

For now, it seems that local governments in the United States will stand alone on the issue, paddling upstream against a federal government and a majority of state governments who reject the science and actively undermine city initiatives. Of course, building climate resiliency is more than an environmental issue for local government. Climate resilience in the 21st century will be a fierce competition between cities around the world to attract talent, reduce business disruption, provide reliable services and protect citizens.

The Shoreline of the Future: Permanently Temporary

Hundreds of millions of years ago sea level was 600 feet higher than it is today, and at the peak of the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago, sea level was almost 400 feet lower than now. “So,” climate change skeptics say, “sea level goes up. Sea level goes down. It’s a natural cycle so if sea level rises again, we’ve dealt with before so we can deal with it again.”

The skeptics are wrong on both counts. The sea level rise we’re experiencing now is not “natural,” and “we” (civilized humans) have never dealt with rising sea level.

Protecting Our Cities from Cyber Attacks

This week, we’re featuring a three part article series from Meeting of the Minds co-founder, Gordon Feller, on cities and cybersecurity. This is the final article in the series.

As a city’s digital infrastructure improves, the distribution of digital skills and the culture of the digital economy will also improve — making it more likely that as each gets better, the city’s goals can be achieved more effectively. Cities can attract and retain higher quality workers if and when cities draw more businesses, new investments, and improved social and cultural amenities. Through joint planning between varied stakeholders (including the city government, businesses, and artists), all involved can thrive off each other and do so at a lower cost, thanks to shared resources in the cloud, accessible via mobile networks, etc.

City leaders increasingly understand that there must be a sustained investment in the digital economy’s hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure. This means investing in both traditional assets (e.g., transport, housing) as well as new assets for digital success (e.g., broadband, sensors, big data and analytics). It means nurturing skills and capabilities in design, creativity and innovation that represent an increasingly important part of the new “capital stock” from which cities square the circle of sustainable growth and social inclusion.

Smart Cities Face a Dynamic Cybersecurity Landscape

This week, we’re featuring a three part article series from Meeting of the Minds co-founder, Gordon Feller, on cities and cybersecurity. This is the second article in the series.

In yesterday’s blog post I put forward an idea: tech-powered urban innovations will not only make cities more efficient, they’ll help to transform how those cities operate, how they connect with (and listen to) citizens and visitors, and that may portend even bigger changes on the near-horizon.

The range of functions that a smart city can integrate digitally is growing exponentially. It typically includes connected and remotely accessible city assets or public spaces in which connectivity allows new patterns and styles of public engagement and municipal service delivery. But a smart city also introduces tremendous value through more mundane, but equally important, functions like parking, lighting, security, Wi-Fi and energy management. As IoT grows, cities (or even regions) can more affordably invest in and increasingly benefit by sharing their capabilities.

When Smart Cities Become Digitally Insecure

This week, we’re featuring a three part article series from Meeting of the Minds co-founder, Gordon Feller, on cities and cybersecurity. This is the first article in the series.

We’re in the midst of an exciting revolution that’s changing virtually everything about the way we work and live in cities. What’s happening to us all has various names—the Gartner Group calls it “the Nexus of Forces”; IDC Research refers to as “the Third Platform”. Others refer to it as “the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution”. Whatever name you choose, this could be the mother of all big transitions, and what’s driving it is the stitching together of a wide range of many different kinds of technology-driven disruptions.

One thing is clear, and it’s starting to get widely noticed: this process, stimulated by the emergence of low-cost connected technologies, is transforming our experience of cities as we’ve known them.

Creating a Smart City? Start With Your Entrepreneurs.

The city of Cleveland recently launched a neighborhood transformation initiative that will be working to build up various neighborhoods within the city. Starting over a year ago, the city began laying the groundwork and identifying the neighborhoods; now the city is ready to work with local partners and entrepreneurs to move forward by providing capital to grow local business. 

Starting a large city overhaul is a daunting task but by having coordination between the groups involved in the project and the city before the project even started, the city has already set the precedent for open communication and keeping the project on course.

Big Data, Automation, and the Future of Transportation

In recent years, a variety of forces (economic, environmental, and social) have quickly given rise to “shared mobility,” a collective of entrepreneurs and consumers leveraging technology to share transportation resources, save money, and generate capital. Bikesharing services, such as BCycle, and business-to-consumer carsharing services, such as Zipcar, have become part of a sociodemographic trend that has pushed shared mobility from the fringe to the mainstream. The role of shared mobility in the broader landscape of urban mobility has become a frequent topic of discussion. Shared transportation modes—such as bikesharing, carsharing, ridesharing, ridesourcing/transportation network companies (TNCs), and microtransit—are changing how people travel and are having a transformative effect on smart cities.

Meeting of the Minds is made possible by the generous support of these organizations.

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