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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Local Climate Action Starts with Infrastructure

Local Climate Action Starts with Infrastructure

Infrastructure is a place where climate action, business interests, and political will have the potential to intersect. Infrastructure investment tends to be a bipartisan, business-friendly policy, in large part because the need is so great. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the United States will need to spend $3.6 trillion between 2010 and 2020 to simply maintain our current transportation, water, and energy infrastructure. Yet there is an estimated funding shortfall of $1.6 trillion, or approximately 45% of the total requirement. In the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report card, most infrastructure categories received a D+, with only one category, solid waste infrastructure, receiving a B- or higher.

Shared Mobility is the Precursor to Autonomous Vehicle Networks

Shared Mobility is the Precursor to Autonomous Vehicle Networks

The current hype about autonomous vehicle is accompanied by a surge of interest from shared mobility operators. Ridesharing providers such as Uber, Lyft and Didi are investing heavily into AV technology. Earlier this year, Uber announced its partnership with Daimler to bring self-driving technology to the market. Didi has opened up an artificial intelligence lab in Mountain View, the backyard of many autonomous vehicle competitors. Lyft’s collaboration with GM is well known and this month they announced an investment from Jaguar Landrover to bring autonomous connected vehicles on the road.

The buzz clearly indicates that the autonomous revolution is imminent. The engineering communities are excited about solving some of the technological challenges, which will ensure data sharing and interoperatability. Governments and cities are trying to grasp the implications of AVs on the road and provide the right regulatory frameworks. Amidst all of this excitement, we shouldn’t forget the impacts this revolution will have on people and that we will have to solve some real operational challenges.

Combining Technologies to Bring Connectivity to the Community

Combining Technologies to Bring Connectivity to the Community

Rhyzome Networks has undertaken a project to upgrade the equipment used for wireless access in order to create stronger connections between the root access points and the repeaters. Our new network does not rely on the original projects wireless mesh and fibre combination, and instead uses wireless point-to-point and fibre for the backhaul of information and the aging 7181 access points will be swapped out in favor of Aruba units.

Our journey into telecommunications began in 2009 as an initiative to provide a backhaul for Festival Hydro’s smart metering system. That project led us down a path to offering wireless and fibre optic connections. It became clear early on in the project that the infrastructure we were putting in place provided us with the opportunity to create a robust backbone that would support the offering of affordable internet and other connectivity options in a community that was, at the time, largely overlooked by the big players in the Canadian telecommunications space.

Indianapolis Revitalizing Neighborhoods Through Arts & Culture

Indianapolis Revitalizing Neighborhoods Through Arts & Culture

As historian Mark I. Gelfand has noted: “No federal venture spent more funds in urban areas and returned fewer dividends to central cities than the national highway program.” A micro example of the devastating effect of the highway system developed through the core of Indianapolis is Cruft Street, with a dead end abutting I-65 near the I-65/I-70 split (completed in 1976) in the Garfield Park area of Indianapolis. Forty-two percent of houses in the area have incomes below $25,000, and 13.5 percent live on less than $10,000 a year. The low income demographic of the area results in 22 percent of adults over age 25 having no high school diploma and 81 percent with no college degree.

An examination of the Cruft Street neighborhood has spurred many nonprofit organizations in Indianapolis to question how the public sector can support the role of arts and culture in revitalizing the Cruft Street neighborhood.

How to Build More Connected and Inclusive Cities

How to Build More Connected and Inclusive Cities

When thinking about the cities of the future, I know that they will be more connected, and I strongly believe that they must be more inclusive. We can’t have the Internet of Everything without the Inclusion of Everyone. Already today, a growing number of cities are using smart technologies to better connect people to places and to each other – and more importantly also connecting people to opportunities for better and safer lives.

Unfortunately, what still causes a significant amount of friction in our cities and prevents inclusive growth is the dominance of cash. In fact, close to 85 percent of all consumer payments in the world are still done with cash or checks. This means that far too many people are trapped by default in an informal economy. They lack the financial services to guard themselves against risk, save for themselves, plan for their children’s futures, and build better lives.

Creating Community Resilience in Every City

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.

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Smart Cities and the Weather

A study by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 2008 found that the impact of routine weather events on the US economy equates annually to about 3.4% of the country’s GDP (about $485 billion). This excludes the impact of extreme weather events that cause damage and disruption – after all, even “ordinary” weather affects supply of and demand for many items, and the propensity of businesses and consumers to buy them. NCAR found that mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with utilities and retail not far behind.

Many of these, disaster management included, are the focus of smart city innovations. Not surprisingly, therefore, as they seek to improve and optimize these systems, smart cities are beginning to understand the connection between weather and many of their goals.  A number of vendors (for example, IBM, Schneider Electric, and others) now offer weather data-driven services focused specifically on smart city interests.

Invest in Resilience Before Disaster Strikes

Investing in at-risk communities before disaster strikes is one of the most cost-effective ways to protect residents and property while increasing their ability to weather the severe storms ahead. At Enterprise Community Partners, our Resilient Communities Initiative works nationwide to strengthen communities and equip residents so they are better prepared for, and able to respond to extreme weather events and other emergencies. We provide technical assistance, grant funding, research and analysis, and build innovative tools to support this goal.

Advancing Urban Resilience One Decision at a Time

The Climate-Smart Cities program at The Trust for Public Land is designed to help cities overcome barriers through a holistic, urban planning approach, bringing a broad range of traditional and non-traditional partners together to develop a common understanding of the needs and opportunities in their communities through the strategic deployment of green infrastructure. We believe that inter-agency and cross-sector collaboration can unlock hidden resources for multiple-benefit, climate-smart green infrastructure for the benefit of the communities who need it most.

Getting Kids Outside to Play: Easier Said Than Done

Research shows that children living in underserved communities are more than four times as likely to lack recreational facilities. This is significant when you consider that 71 percent of youth don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity, and that one in five school-aged children has obesity. The lack of safe places to play is an added barrier to living a healthy lifestyle for these children.

At the U.S Soccer Foundation we aim to bring quality soccer programming and play spaces to more kids. To further expand our after-school soccer program, Soccer for Success, we knew we needed more quality spaces to play the game, especially in urban areas.

Offshore Wind Taking Cleveland Back to the Future

In 2016, Forbes magazine named Cleveland the “Hottest City in America.” However, Cleveland is now 51st in population among U.S. cities, and many of the industries from the glory days are shadows of themselves, have closed, or moved away. So, how does the Hottest City in America attract the best and brightest millennials as well as leverage its legacy of industrialization, entrepreneurship, and innovation to generate jobs of the future?

One way to tap this inherent strength is through the abundant wind resource right off our shores of Lake Erie. Not only can this resource supply an inexhaustible source of clean energy, the fundamental nature of this industry depends on engineering, manufacturing, fabrication, and maritime activities. Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) has taken the lead to bring this industry home and make Cleveland a national center. Project Icebreaker, a demonstration project consisting of 6 Vestas 3.45 MW turbines 8-10 miles offshore of the Port of Cleveland, is poised for construction in 2019.

Finding Fresh: How Smart Farming is Impacting Smart Cities

The California economy is currently seeing a spillover of the newest technological innovations from Silicon Valley, into the Central, San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys; adding to the existing base of advancements in precision irrigation, spectral imaging, genomics, environmental, animal and plant sciences, and dozens of other areas of practice. Many of the applications in use in today’s cities will likely find their place on the farm or vineyard, especially when it comes to IoT (Internet of Things) technologies.

The smart city is meeting the smart farm, but the nature of technology necessitates this relationship will be symbiotic not unidirectional. Increasingly, the smart farm will be impacting the smart city. 

Leveraging Technology to Improve Transportation in Nairobi and Beyond

Featuring Jacqueline Klopp

Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Jacqueline Klopp about using technology to improve transportation in Nairobi and other African cities. She is an Associate Research Scholar at the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University and teaches Sustainable Development at Columbia University. Her research focuses at the intersection of sustainable land use, transportation, planning and democratization. She is writing a book on the politics of planning in Nairobi and is taking an increasing interest in ICT and questions of public participation in policymaking around planning. She is also a co-founder of the blog NairobiPlanningInnovations and the Digital Matatus project that mapped minibuses (matatus) in Nairobi and produced the first public transit map of minibuses for the city. Klopp received her B.A. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in Political Science from McGill University.

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

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