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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Protecting Cities’ Critical Assets

Protecting Cities’ Critical Assets

As cities grapple with urban growth and climate change placing more people and economic activity in harm’s way, the resilience of critical infrastructures, and of the assets that make up these infrastructures, is coming increasingly under the spotlight. However, this is a complex issue, and not all its dimensions are well understood.  This article attempts to explore them.

Cities can be thought of as “systems of systems”, where energy, water, communications, transportation, healthcare, law and order, data, and other physical systems (not to mention social, political and economic systems) interact. From this perspective, many issues arise.

Some countries and cities can identify their critical systems and assets (it is, for example,  a Federal requirement for cities to do this in the US), but very few can identify how they are linked to each other. As a result, they have no way to identify and manage the associated inter-dependencies. In many cases, as with the grid failure example, the existence of these linkages may not even be fully understood by all the entities affected, and accordingly come as a highly unwelcome surprise. Achieving critical infrastructure resilience therefore requires investing time and effort to identify and maintain relevant and up-to-date data on these linkages.

Big Data, Automation, and the Future of Transportation

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.

Smart Cities and the Weather

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

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.

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Reshaping Mobility: The Factors and Innovations at Play

Digitization continues to plough its way through whole industries, changing such old worlds as retail and finance in ways big and small. In the world of mobility and transport, a number of forces are driving massive shifts in the expectations and the needs of those who run or use our transportation systems: commuters, shippers, and many more.

We’re only just starting to see the outlines and contours of the big changes underway. The shifts now taking shape are being propelled by advances in technology, shifting socioeconomic factors, and public policy.

Basque Transformational Narratives

Since the end of the Spanish dictatorship, self-government has been a key driver of the socio-economic transformation of Basque society. A democratically-elected local Parliament and government administration took control over health, education, security, and economic planning; and local governing bodies were re-established with the capacity to collect and allocate taxes. The strategies and projects promoted by these self-governing institutions helped to design and implement a model of sustainable human development, rooted in economic growth and social cohesion. The Basque case presents a unique case of systemic transformation under extreme circumstances.

Building Towards Resiliency with Healthy Digital Ecosystems

We are only starting to understand the power of networked technologies. And our learning comes at a cost: we are increasingly divided in our increasingly interconnected world.

We’re trying something new in New York: making communities more resilient by building healthy place-based digital ecosystems. Resilient Networks NYC is a multi-stakeholder partnership building local wireless networks in six Superstorm Sandy-impacted neighborhoods. In each neighborhood, New America’s Resilient Communities Program is partnering with a local community organization on the front lines of climate adaptation and economic resilience. With our support, our partners are training local residents as “Digital Stewards” to conduct outreach, collaborate with local businesses and leaders, and design, install, and maintain resilient public WiFi systems.

Sustainable Seattle

Seattle is consistently near the top of any list of US cities for sustainability and for growth. Almost all electricity is from hydropower. Energy-efficient buildings anchor walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. As Seattle has become increasingly sustainable, it is doubling its economy while cutting carbon emissions in half.

Seattle is one of our nation’s most walkable cities with a walkscore of 73. During a recent visit, my wife and I walked 9 miles through the city, rewarded with views of ocean inlets, mountains, and thriving neighborhoods. We arrived and departed Seattle on Amtrak and got everywhere on foot and transit, except our Uber rides to and from the train station. Yet, with growth, reducing gridlocked commuting is a challenge.

City Parks and Homelessness

Keri Bales spent over 25 years on the streets of Los Angeles. Her entire world — a tent, some belongings and her dog, Luckybutt — could be found in a small, hidden-away area nestled between the train tracks and a city park. It took 25 years before an advocate stopped by to have a real conversation with her, which culminated in her finally being connected with the resources she needed to find permanent housing. Park and recreation agencies are often on the front lines of combatting homelessness issues. While many agencies and their employees want to help homeless park users like Keri, there is a demonstrable challenge in addressing homelessness with compassion while staying aligned with our park and recreation mission. We came to Los Angeles, which is home to recent ballot measures that will fund affordable housing and homelessness services, to learn how their city is working on all fronts, including in parks and recreation, to end homelessness.

Researcher and Paratransit Operator Collaboration in South Africa

Featuring Herrie Schalekamp

Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.

Leveraging Big Data & Analytics to Revitalize Brownfields

Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.

In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:

How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?

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.

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

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