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.
Creating a Smart City? Start With Your Entrepreneurs.
In the 1950s a movement took place not only here in Cleveland but all over the country: the exponential growth of suburbs. Cities across the country saw radical shifts in their population and work trends as many working families moved outside of the city limits.
Today, we are starting to see cities grow again. According to the United Nations World Cities 2016 report, urban areas are projected to house 60% of the global population by 2030. With the rise of city populations, there’s a growing need for cities to adapt and find ways to incorporate technology, to help those that are living there, and turn into smart cities.
In Cleveland, we have seen firsthand that entrepreneurs facilitate population and technological growth in our hometown.
The Right Resources
Entrepreneurship has been on the rise for the last several years thanks in large part to the millennial trend of forgoing the 9 to 5 grind in favor of starting something of their own. Entrepreneurs gravitate towards markets rich with opportunities and startup resources. Combine that with the mid-market draw of lower operating costs and there is a foundation for ambitious minds to reside and thrive in Cleveland.
This past May, the North American division of the Smart Cities Council held its first ever Smart City Week event in the entrepreneurial heart of the country, Silicon Valley, CA. The council spoke to four industry leaders about where cities are going and how to get there, and we couldn’t agree with them more.
One of the industry leaders, Michael Mattmiller from Seattle, stressed the importance of having an appointed committee to help move everyone towards the same goals, a key step to bridge the gap between all the different groups involved in city wide projects.
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.
The Entrepreneurial Advantage
Smart cities are where many major cities are going, but as with any new changes, there can always be problems getting things off the ground. Entrepreneurs and the startups they create can provide a different angle to approaching problems and can easily adapt.
In the early days of inTouch, we were fortunate to take on Cisco as a customer and make an app for the DevNet team to use at the worldwide Cisco Live events. Being a startup, we had the versatility to adjust what we had been doing to create exactly what Cisco needed.
Today, our relationship has grown with Cisco resulting in a partnership with the Cisco Meraki division which specializes in Wi-Fi access points, a valuable tool for smart cities. By using the Wi-Fi access points, users can access Wi-Fi almost anywhere, something that many citizens in Cleveland do not have access to.
For projects like the one starting in Cleveland, building out an infrastructure is necessary, but factoring in technology can be a forgotten step. As discussed at Smart City Week, making sure that the role technology is playing is understood and clear is a major factor for success. Too often this step is placed on the backburner, but with the neighborhood initiative, using the right technology works in tandem with building up the new neighborhood infrastructure thanks to the entrepreneurs involved, and their technology.
From our conversations about incorporating Wi-Fi access points and in placing our own proximity sensors throughout Cleveland, we have found that working in small groups, like what the neighborhood initiative is starting, to be a successful approach to building out a smart city infrastructure. Called smart districts, several portions of downtown Cleveland now have proximity sensors that can send push notifications to users who have the connected smartphone app. These smart districts are helping Cleveland move in the smart city direction and now that the neighborhood initiative is underway, it’s only a matter of time before Cleveland will rise through the smart city ranks.
Cleveland is evolving to find the best ways to help its citizens and connect the unconnected. As Clevelanders, we’re excited to see what this next phase will bring to our city. As entrepreneurs, we’re looking forward to meeting and working with more like-minded individuals. Smart cities are the future and thanks to entrepreneurs, cities like ours can make that future a reality.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
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?
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.