News roundup: Measuring Dublin’s dumpsters, the UN defines “Smart City,” Silicon Valley has a crush on cities

By Frank Teng

Frank Teng is a current MBA in Sustainable Management student at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco and is on the board of Sustainable Silicon Valley. He works with Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate services firm, to manage global energy and sustainability programs for corporate clients in the technology and financial services sectors. Please note: Frank's views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer.

Jun 9, 2013 | Mobility, Technology | 0 comments

How do we measure a “smart city”?     

As “smart city” has evolved into a meme, some experts are trying to bring clarity to the definition of a smart city for practical purposes. The UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network has launched an effort to identify common solutions and highlight best practices. They break sustainable development into 12 thematic groups, which they detail in a recent publication, Sustainable Cities: Inclusive, Resilient, and Connected.

Part of the suggestion is to improve standardization in ICT in order to accelerate adoption, scale, and positive outcomes. As noted by the International Telecommunications Union’s Turin Roadmap launched at the 8th ITU Symposium  on ICT and Environment Change in May 2013, “the potential of ICTs in urban development can only be achieved if applications seamlessly interoperate, regardless of service provider or vendor. This will require the development of international standards, harmonized frequency spectrum, and the application of enabling policies and best practices.”

The Turin Roadmap sets the following goals in order to encourage smart sustainable cities:

  1. Defining: Smart sustainable cities, and the role of ICTs in meeting the challenges they face.
  2. Engaging cities: Establish a Charter for Smart Sustainable Cities with measurable objectives relating to engagement, performance, and collaboration, and invite cities to sign it
  3. Adopting a holistic approach
  4. Standardizing: A methodology for assessing the environmental impact of ICTs in cities in collaboration with other relevant organisations and experts taking into account a life cycle perspective.
  5. Developing: A set of key performance indicators (KPIs) which would allow cities to monitor the sustainability impact of ICTs over time. These KPIs could include basic metrics such as, but not limited to, air quality index, water quality index, waste recycling rates, resource use, sustainable transport systems and access to green areas.
  6. Best practices and lessons learned: Help disseminate best practices by establishing a platform where smart sustainable cities around the world can provide information on the implementation of successful practices.
  7. Behavioural change
  8. Advocacy
  9. Measuring success: Carry out pilot and flagship demonstration projects to demonstrate “smart sustainable” ICT solutions to build smart sustainable cities by utilizing new technologies and international standards. Identify strengths and weaknesses of implementation strategies, report success stories, best practices, lessons learned, cost implications in dealing with the challenges met and innovative solutions used.
  10. Mobilizing expertise

New sensor networks and big data

Two recent examples of city-wide use of sensor networks are in Dublin, Ireland and Santander, Spain. Dublin is tackling traffic congestion problems not by modifying historic roads, but by making real-time data analysis from road sensors and GPS data from 1,000 city buses available in searchable traffic reports to its residents. The Spanish port city of Santander now has 12,000 sensors buried under asphalt, on street lamps, and riding city buses. The sensors measure air pollution, available parking spaces, can dim street lights when no one is around, and can even tell garbage collectors which dumpsters are full. The data can be displayed on mobile devices and parking availability can be shown on digital displays at every block, plus citizens can interact and submit photos of potholes or broken streetlight for maintenance. This pilot project will save the city 25% on electricity bills and 20% on garbage, plus utility companies are paying for the sensors’ operations since it saves them money too.

Leveraging the big data that already circulates through all of our urban systems can yield important improvements, such as IBM’s research project to model movement data from the largest release of anonymized cell phone user data, in the Ivory Coast in West Africa. Their model evaluated 65 possible improvements to transportation mobility and concluded that adding two routes and extending an existing one could yield the maximum 10 percent time savings for commuters. The mobile phone data was released through an effort by Orange’s Data for Development program, which held a competition among one hundred research projects to use the data to improve development, from which four winners were chosen.

Silicon Valley says that cities can move the needle

Sustainable Silicon Valley, a nonprofit collaboration between local governments, businesses, and civic organizations, held an annual WEST Summit hosted by NASA Ames Research Center. California Governor Jerry Brown attended to accept a consensus statement signed by over five hundred scientists urging policy makers to take action.

A panel on Intelligent Integrated Infrastructure, featuring the City Manager of Palo Alto and industry executives from SAP, Grok, Silver Spring Networks, and Google, discussed their thoughts on what it takes to accelerate smart infrastructure, how it can be economical, and the challenges of behavior change. They reinforced how cities are the solution for climate change in the future, due to their manageable scale, common goals of serving residents, and solution-oriented mentality. Furthermore, cities can help convene stakeholders and create gravity around a topic, improving the speed and clarity of solutions and business cases.

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