Earlier in my career I learned the hard way that you can never ratchet expectations above the baseline you set in those critical early moments of a project or initiative. People and organizations very quickly settle into the level of performance that they deem acceptable to you.
If cities wish to obtain the environmental, public health, and quality of life benefits of electric vehicles, they will need to plan for the dramatic expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
The Olympic motto is three Latin words: citius, altius, fortius – faster, higher, stronger. With electric rail and buses, taller green buildings in thriving mixed use neighborhoods, and resiliency with distributed renewables, these three attributes will also be said of Los Angeles in ten years.
We are enduring an elevated threat to energy infrastructure. The non-standard application of sensors, communications, and automation in the distribution system is actually expanding potential access points for bad actors. However, while seemingly counterintuitive, increasing the total usage in the network from these access points will actually improve security and flexibility for utilities, city planners, developers and the like. A flexible, dynamic and interconnected set of microgrids can reduce the risk of black outs and energy shortages from physical and virtual attacks.
As a result of these pilot projects, in Kadjebi, revenues doubled in just one year, and in Elmina, the tax collection base has been increased by a factor of 20 thanks to the implementation of billing and collection software and capacity building. Kumasi has significantly increased market revenues (by 48 percent in one month) by signing a social contract with a group of women locally known as ‘market queens’. In exchange for better sanitation facilities and street lighting, which ensures an overall safer environment in which to conduct their business, these women help with the revenue collection of market fees. The large harbur city of Tema was helped to develop plans for a phased transition from outsourcing their tax collection (at a cost of 30 percent of total tax revenues) to one that is handled internally. In Sekondi Takoradi we assisted in developing a mass communication campaign to make citizens aware of the relation between paying taxes and improved basic services.
When applied to today’s cities in a non-academic context, urban anthropology provides a kind of “outsider’s perspective” to the dominant fields of urban planning and design. An anthropologist’s brain is one that views the current age through the long arc of humanity; they see the comparison between the best and worst of the human condition, and can balance human needs with human desire accordingly. This leads to an acceptance (and appreciation) of cultural contexts, with communication and co-creation at its core.
What is it about cities that makes them so influential, and what makes some urban centers grow faster than others? If we find that out, we can identify the best strategies for investing in our cities. Professor Mario Polèse has proposed five urban economics principles that affect a city’s outcomes.
“The ancients built Valdrada on the shores of a lake, with houses all verandas one above the other, and high streets whose railed parapets look out over the water. Thus the traveler, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above the lake, and the other reflected, upside down. Nothing exists or happens in the one Valdrada that the other Valdrada does not repeat, because the city was so constructed that its every point would be reflected in its mirror”
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Enthusiastic praise for Toronto’s successful transformation from “America’s Belfast” to one of the world’s most successful multicultural cities is rightly celebrated. However, praise should not obscure some of the very real limits to multicultural comity that have emerged with the passage of time. Two structural challenges – those of race and inequality – deserve attention.
Even as smart city engineers, we too easily pass over thinking of the city as a complex of systems and narrow our view to some simpler, though still complicated, system that we can study in isolation. But cities do not function simply as a collection of parts. They function through the ways in which their citizens and other actors organize and connect these parts into personal and civic systems through which they can live their lives. Actors both exploit and contribute to the soul of the city. If we understood how they do this, we might then apply our skills and technologies to making cities “better,” although, as Jacob Bronowski liked to point out, “first you have to tell me what ‘better’ means.”
Imagine that cities could be performing at the highest possible levels, and striving to act as global models for other cities. Cities can lead in prioritizing and enhancing human health, while saving energy, water and waste. Cities can be powered by clean and reliable energy, while teaching children in in a green school buildings. Cities can be affordable for even the poorest. We see that future within reach, with consistent and clear performance measurement as the path that will lead the way.
When it comes to smart city services and benefits, consumers will naturally respond favorably to suggested improvements without considering the financial implications. Given limited resources, it’s important to highlight the potential tradeoffs that might be involved. CompTIA’s study presented several tradeoff scenarios to those taking the survey: 39 percent of consumers say they would probably be willing to shift budget from city staff raises, but only 31 percent would be willing to shift budget from high school athletic facilities, and just 27 percent would be willing to shift budget from new police or fire vehicles. Understanding acceptable budgetary tradeoffs will help elected officials prioritize investments.