Innovative ICT Solutions for Urban Connectivity
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Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
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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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In my business, we’d rather not be right. What gets a climate change expert out of bed in the morning is the desire to provide decision-makers with the best available science, and at the end of the day we go to bed hoping things won’t actually get as bad as our science tells us. That’s true whether you’re a physical or a social scientist.
Well, I’m one of the latter and Meeting of the Minds thought it would be valuable to republish an article I penned in January 2020. In that ancient past, only the most studious of news observers had heard of a virus in Wuhan, China, that was causing a lethal disease. Two months later we were in lockdown, all over the world, and while things have improved a lot in the US since November 2020, in many cities and nations around the world this is not the case. India is living through a COVID nightmare of untold proportions as we speak, and many nations have gone through wave after wave of this pandemic. The end is not in sight. It is not over. Not by a longshot.
And while the pandemic is raging, sea level continues to rise, heatwaves are killing people in one hemisphere or the other, droughts have devastated farmers, floods sent people fleeing to disaster shelters that are not the save havens we once thought them to be, wildfires consumed forests and all too many homes, and emissions dipped temporarily only to shoot up again as we try to go “back to normal.”
So, I’ll say another one of those things I wish I’ll be wrong about, but probably won’t: there is no “back to normal.” Not with climate change in an interdependent world.