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.
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.
If you look at any city in the world from the sky, the largest public space is always the streets. Streets are designed for one purpose: to get vehicles from one place to another. Open streets programs transform those streets into meeting places, art installations, and parks, by closing them to cars and opening them to people. For anyone who has experienced the power of open streets firsthand, the sense of joy and freedom can be overwhelming.
There are 87 billion square feet of commercial real estate in the United States. These buildings’ owners fall into two categories: those whose primary business is owning real estate for profit from asset appreciation or rental income, and everyone else. Of all this square footage, some 60 percent is in possession of those who control real estate on a large scale, typically with assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It is this group that is most exposed to regulatory and market forces and that also has the wherewithal to do something about it. This is where it gets interesting.
Metropolitan New York is experiencing growth and prosperity, this has brought new economic opportunities for the region but also challenges in housing and affordability. Furthermore, increased storms and flooding from climate change threaten the economic and social life of Metropolitan New York. In all this, it is important to consider the role of the federal government in transit and climate change planning. It is also important to consider the relationship of Metropolitan New York to its neighbours in the Bos-Wash mega-city region, including on issues such as regional transit. Finally, one cannot forget the scale of the street and neighbourhood. For new housing to build on – and not destroy – the neighbourhoods that have been the charm and attraction of Metropolitan New York.
Setting ambitious solar energy goals and demonstrating commitment through municipal solar installations are both fundamental in setting the tone for solar growth in a community. Goal setting provides an opportunity to institutionalize a shared vision of a solar-powered future, and a strong goal ensures that progress towards that goal becomes embedded in all future city decisions.
The field of transportation planning needs new blood. We need new thoughts, new approaches. The traditional methods of policymaking are not working because, as already stated, we are not engaging the public in a sufficient or sufficiently meaningful way. We are also not sufficiently engaging other industries, which means that we are not inviting our traditional ways of thinking to be challenged. We need to overcome this insularity by creating policymaking contexts that bring together elected and appointed officials, diverse members of the public, and cross-industry experts.
Cities are under increasing pressure to innovate in order to attract businesses and people, and remain economically strong, and their success or failure could largely depend on their future transportation systems. Transportation systems are like arteries. When running smoothly, a community is likely to thrive and prosper. System breakdowns and blockages lead to quality of life issues such as traffic jams and pollution—problems that can quickly put an economically vibrant community into cardiac arrest.
But while providing consumers with convenient options, the popularity of these new mobility services bring their own set of issues, and have the potential to put even more pressure on already highly stressed transportation systems. Uber and Lyft, for example, are putting more cars on already congested roads. In New York City, it is estimated that these services account for a 14 percent increase in the number of vehicles on the street.
Not long after I started in my current role, I was venting to a friend about a particularly difficult personnel issue and about how I felt that it was distracting me from other work. After listening to my complaints for a little while, her response was simple: “isn’t that your job?” At that moment, I was just looking for a sympathetic ear and confirmation that this was a distraction from more “important” work. But the more I thought about her question, the more I realized she was making a crucial point: dealing with these kinds of personnel and organizational issues is the job—and in many cases, the most important part of what I do.
Where smart city projects require departments or agencies to collaborate and share money and data in new ways, they may be just be asking the physically impossible; or they may impose a zero-sum calculation on those entities – the more collaboration, the less power, budget and funds, and the less reason for the separate existence of each entity. Said differently, in organizational and political terms, smart cities are fundamentally unnatural.