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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What Does Equity Have To Do With Tech?

What Does Equity Have To Do With Tech?

Unlocking the tech sector’s potential in Chicago (and beyond) means confronting segregation and inequality.

The tech field suffers from a costly cycle of inequity. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that, compared to other private industries, high-tech companies hire a disproportionate number of white people and men—68.5% and 64% of employees, respectively. Meanwhile, the STEM workforce in the U.S. is projected to grow exponentially; already, in job-rich Cook County and DuPage counties, tech jobs grew 14% and 18% between 2009 and mid-2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the city’s tech sector grows, so might inequality—unless more leaders like Sales-Griffin step up with creative interventions. Today in Chicago, just 12% of Latinos and 20% of African-Americans have bachelor’s degrees, compared to 44% of whites. The diversity talent gap threatens the tech sector’s vitality.

The Shoreline of the Future: Permanently Temporary

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

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

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

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.

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.

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Northeast Ohio’s Startup Ecosystem: The Visible & The Invisible

As one of the region’s champions of entrepreneurship, Morgan Foundation has been among the ecosystem builders focusing on startup support for all types of entrepreneurs. The programs we fund help children develop the entrepreneurial mindset, support college students as they conceptualize and launch new ventures, and undergird the services that propel experienced adult entrepreneurs to develop high potential startups.

Northeast Ohio is doing well at concocting its entrepreneurial stew, but we recognize that there is always more to learn. As we prepare to welcome Meeting of the Minds to Cleveland in the fall, we see the goal of this gathering as ideal for the crucible of interdisciplinary thinking that is teeming in our region. We expect that it will throw “gasoline on the fire” and we are anxious to showcase all the great intersections brewing in and around Cleveland; the blending of medicine with biomimicry, fashion with technology, and 3-D printing with manufacturing!

Digital Disruptions in The World of Mobility: We’ve Glimpsed the Possibilities

The leaders of urban transit authorities and public transport agencies now recognize the need to push simultaneously on several fronts: reduce costs, reduce environmental impact, enhance customer and driver safety, and provide improved passenger services. These leaders are under severe pressure to provide superior passenger services: wi-fi, passenger information systems, and smartphone apps, just to name a few. This means that they must learn to offer a passenger experience that competes with other transportation modes and private transportation companies.

Smart Cities and Artificial Intelligence: Balancing Opportunity and Risk

Steven Hawking recently commented that artificial intelligence (AI) would be “either the best thing or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity”. He was referring to the opportunity that AI offers to improve mankind’s situation, set alongside the risks that it also presents. These same competing possibilities apply no less when AI is considered in the context of smart cities and the planet’s growing urbanization.  With smart cities, though, this is not just some abstract balance: there is a genuine choice of path to be made as smart cities and AI evolve together. This article explores the choice.

Let’s Not Get Run Over by Major Transportation Trends

As we look back on the auto revolution since 1945, we have spent trillions of dollars on cars and related infrastructure. These investments transformed our country and greatly assisted us to an unprecedented level of prosperity. Yet there are many things we would no doubt do differently with 20/20 hindsight to shape the use of cars in relation to other modes of travel and in relation to the urban forms we want to live in. As we look on in amazement at the current technological prowess on display in the auto and mobility industries, it is important that we learn from the automobile revolution of the last 75 years. We can learn from the past to shape new developments to meet shared goals as these technologies unfold, rather than suffer the impacts of unintended consequences. 

Expanding Visual Accessibility of Mobility Information using the Physical Web

How does public information work for people who can’t read information screens? In the US there are over 1.3 million legally blind people, many of whom have difficulty reading public screens, and over 100,000 totally blind people, who often depend on assistive technology like screen readers (which read text on computers out loud). Naturally, public transportation plays a major role in many of their lives.

Cities Can’t Prejudge Winner in Green v. Grey Infrastructure Battle

One of the ironies of the green versus grey infrastructure battle is that they are not mutually exclusive approaches; many times the best design solution is a combination of grey and green infrastructure working together. Grey and green infrastructure are on the same team, and that team’s goal is to take action on any number of difficult problems coastal cities are grappling with: hurricane risk, saltwater intrusion, coastal erosion, tidal flooding, sea level rise. Arguing about green versus grey infrastructure makes taking action on these problems harder than it already is.

Cleveland Midtown Tech Hive: Technology & Community

DigitalC aims to begin to address this need by developing the Midtown Tech Hive located at 6815 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland’s Midtown neighborhood. The Midtown Tech Hive will house Cleveland’s first neighborhood innovation space anchored and operated by DigitalC, an organization dedicated to making Cleveland a thriving hub of innovation and digital inclusion. The Hive will provide vibrant workspace, feature robust 18-hour programming, and a commitment to a diverse user base.

The New Commons

Mark Twain once advised, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” In many low-income city neighborhoods, that may seem impossible. The land’s been consumed; built on, paved over, or contaminated, and none is left at any price for parks or other greenspace. But many communities are proving Twain wrong by reclaiming their landscapes and, in effect, making new land.

Take Yonkers, New York, for example. Or Lawrence, Massachusetts, or Richmond, California. All are mid-sized cities where, after industry and jobs departed, black and brown people ended up being concentrated in park-poor – sometimes park-free – environments. Now these are all places where, through community-driven efforts, abandoned rail rights of way are being transformed into green community corridors.

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

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