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.
Economic Development Through Innovation, Collaboration & Smart Grid Technology
How do cities create greater opportunity for their residents? In two words, innovation and collaboration. With the world’s population reaching 8 billion by 2025 and more than half of all people living in the world’s cities, the way we manage energy and water will define this century. If you think about many cities in the U.S. today, the critical infrastructure, such as electric grids and water distribution systems, are over a hundred years old and are in need of modernization to support today’s economy and lifestyle. Without power for extended periods of time, commerce comes to a halt. Without power in homes, most of us don’t have lights, heat or air conditioning. Without water, we cease to exist. Clearly, energy and water are the lifeblood of thriving businesses and communities, and we need reliable access to both. To ensure that citizens like you and me have access to precious resources and new opportunities, innovation in technology and collaboration across groups and industries will be crucial to creating economic potential for us all.
Technology Innovation Will Drive Greater Opportunities
Innovative technology and new approaches for applying it will fuel smart cities of the future. To do this, cities need a strong technology foundation on which to build new applications. For example, many cities are starting to use one network to serve multiple needs, creating new opportunities for efficiency and cost savings. Utility investments in smart meters and smart grids are essential to helping cities become more effective in delivering services to its citizens, as they provide the mechanism for two-way communications, as well as a source of real-time data for reducing energy and water waste. Creating efficiency, conserving resources and helping citizens make decisions that make their lives easier is what we’re striving for—bringing all of this together is where the real value lies. If done correctly, moving from smart grids to smart cities will create new opportunities for efficiencies, conservation and economic development.
The type of critical infrastructure transformation I’m describing is a big undertaking, but we have to start somewhere, so why not the grid? Beginning with grid modernization, using open, interoperable networking capabilities, city leaders can use information captured from smart devices to:
- Dynamically pump water at off peak times, and apply the savings to sponsor other city programs, like creating solar neighborhoods
- Compare building-level information to lower energy footprint, reduce waste and create awareness to drive down city costs
- Use key information to drive focused economic development, and utilize the savings to revitalize neighborhoods
- Attract new businesses as the city’s reputation for innovation and sustainability grows
Did I mention that the smart grid technology will pay for itself through operational efficiency? The underlying smart grid communications infrastructure can also be used for transportation and other services. For example, sensors that communicate using this infrastructure can be embedded in parking meters, sending information about availability to smartphones. These sensors can also be applied to parking garages about space availability, alerting drivers to traffic jams and alternate routes. Additionally, the same technology can be used with street lights, enabling the lights to be switched on and off only when needed.
The exciting thing about all of this is that the technology exists today. The ability to give people the information they need in the palm of their hands to make informed decisions about optimizing resources and how they coexist in our cities is here. We just have to be creative about how we apply it. With smart devices collecting data and pushing it to the cloud, apps will be developed to access and deliver this information to consumers in new and innovative ways. If cities adopt technology to better their cities and the lives of their citizens, they will attract new businesses, creating new economic opportunities.
However, technology alone is not the answer. We need greater collaboration between all stakeholders to bring the best ideas forward to create a more resourceful world.
Collaboration Will Contribute to New Possibilities
The best work gets done when people collaborate. This is particularly true as we collectively try to address energy, water, urbanization and transportation challenges. These challenges can’t be met with single-focused solutions. They need to be viewed holistically, and it can be done. There’s a great example of innovative collaboration in the Charlotte, N.C. Envision Charlotte is a unique public-private initiative that leverages sustainability for economic growth as a model for all communities. Envision Charlotte is developing first-of-their kind programs in energy, water, waste and air to conserve resources and reduce operating costs. The goal is for Charlotte to have the most sustainable urban core, connecting buildings for behavioral change to make smarter, sustainable choices.
Collaboration is at the center of Envision Charlotte’s success. Technology companies, local businesses, utilities, city leaders and NGOs are coming together to determine how they can work to create a sustainable, thriving city core.
There are other examples of how this type of collaboration is really making a difference. For example, DTE Energy in Detroit is kicking off its smart cities demonstration project with the goal of bridging the silos of smart technologies (sensors, distributed intelligence, communications) through analytics, behavioral science and innovative user applications for a cohesive engagement between citizen, corporation and community. Detroit is in the process of revitalization, and with a focus on community and economic vitality, technology and collaboration are playing a vital role in its transformation.
In closing, through innovation and collaboration, we can create new economic opportunities for people around the world. For me personally, I envision a future where reliable access to energy and water ensure communities around the world thrive. We’ll modernize grids, build smarter cities, engage with citizens in new ways, and do everything we can to better manage precious water, gas and electric resources with technology and innovation. Through it all, we’ll need more creative thinking than ever before to get there—and we will.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
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?
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.