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.
Innovative ICT Solutions for Urban Connectivity
Growing numbers of urban innovations claim to hold the key to unlock the door to a ‘smarter city’. More often than not, these innovations are being embedded into highly complex projects that aim to achieve greater environmental, economic and social sustainability. In this age of fiscal constraints it’s become paramount to demonstrate how these innovations create meaningful financial savings and produce measurable efficiency gains – in greenfield projects and in brownfield redevelopments.
No single company, and likewise no city, is truly equipped today to provide a comprehensive smart-city solution, if such a thing even really could exist. But end-to-end products, solutions and services are going to remain the ideal. As smarter-city visions emerge in different ways in cities, and as these visions manifest through various projects, a combination of ingredients new ways of thinking, designing, planning, executing and managing the city.
Yet, perhaps more than anything else, new business models are needed that can embrace a broad suite of information and communications technologies (ICTs).City leaders are discovering that the broadband network has become the fourth utility.
Smarter and better connected urban communities are utilizing intelligent systems, building a platform that helps government increase the efficient delivery of services, which in turn enhance the quality of life for residents.
Winning strategies seem to be the ones that enable citizens, business leaders and policy-makers to drive job growth, increase economic opportunity and provide improved citizen services. The goal is simple: enabling more effective partnerships by linking governments with private enterprises and citizen organizations – focused on creating communities which are economically competitive, socially cohesive and environmentally clean.
Innovative ICT solutions can be critical tools for those reinventing municipal services, public safety and security, health and well-being, education, energy efficiency and utility management, transport and mobility, real estate development.
Some of the most promising projects have begun to show that it’s possible to use the network (whether wired or wireless) to help achieve some of the major goals of state and local government:
- Economic Sustainability: creating new jobs, stimulating critical industries, supporting new business.
- Social Sustainability: improving the delivery of services to the citizen, boosting the quality of life across age groups and demographics, enriching culture, opening wider opportunities for social inclusion.
- Ecological Sustainability: reducing the environmental impact and resource consumption of the city, including the adoption of planning that connects the built environment to green spaces and native ecosystems.
- Efficient City Management: reducing costs and inefficiencies in municipal operations and services, coordinating across groups and industries to improve government processes and strengthen city management systems.
Savvy government leaders are recognizing the untapped power of the network and incorporating its potential into the early stages of planning and development. But how to incorporate d include these ICT solutions in a consistent, scalable and replicable manner? For many cities this has involved experimentation through small-scale ‘proof of concept’ projects. Since budgets are so limited, city leaders know that it’s impossible to adopt a purely centralized approach, which means trying new approaches, letting non-government organizations take the lead, wherever and whenever possible.
City leaders are discovering that the broadband network has become the fourth utility. Governments regulate the three traditional utilities – water, gas and electricity – with a clear and consistent framework. Regulations are clearly needed to standardize the uses of ICT in the development of new urban communities and in the provision of services to the public. Since governments cannot do it alone, frameworks are needed for public-private partnerships. These can provide the successful conditions for new business models which incentivize the private sector to take a more active role in upgrading city services and infrastructure.
A few questions for future consideration:
- What are the design principles for “smart regulations” that can accelerate the development of smarter and better connected communities?
- What are the desired outcomes of smart regulations?
- What’s the government’s role in creating smart regulations, especially where there’s an alternative to command-and-control?
- What’s the role of industry in defining and shaping smart regulations, including the voluntary self-regulations?
- Which city development activities could best be guided and governed by smart regulations?
- What are the emerging standards for the ICT requirements integrated into smart city development?
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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.