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.
Power to the people: New series to spotlight urban innovators
What do you think of when you hear the words “urban innovation”? Do you think of smart technology and clean energy? Or open data and civic tech? Maybe you think of entrepreneurship or creative placemaking or the future of mobility?
It can be easy to forget what these all have in common: People. Extraordinary people. Brave thinkers and doers finding new ways to make cities more sustainable and equitable for all.
This fall, Urban Innovation Exchange and Meeting of the Minds are turning our attention to the human-powered ingenuity behind transformational change in cities for a new series on urban innovators across America.
Who are these individuals leaning in to solve problems? How are they testing and growing new ideas? What impact will they have on the future of urban life?
This series is made possible thanks to support from The Kresge Foundation, working to expand opportunities in America’s cities.
To do this, we are calling upon an ace advisory group, including the editors at Issue Media Group, a network of online magazines covering what’s next in cities, and Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator empowering entrepreneurs to solve urban problems.
But stepping back a bit — why do urban innovators matter in the first place? Here’s our take: They challenge the status quo, obsess over ways to do better, and bring passion to problems in need of fresh thinking. Often we find them crossing sectors, disrupting boundaries, and cultivating exciting new collaborations with unlikely bedfellows.
Their verve keeps cities vital, daring us to dream of a better tomorrow.
By telling their stories, we hope to shine a light on not just the “who,” but the “how” of their work, to demystify the process of converting ideas into action.
Maybe you or someone you know is looking for inspiration to advance an idea and transfer it to your city? Or maybe you are in a position to help take an innovator to the next level?
Wherever you sit in the movement for healthier cities, we hope you will follow along to meet some pretty outstanding individuals working to shape a brighter future.
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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.