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.
Featuring Roger Behrens
Meeting of the Minds talked with Roger Behrens about planning for hybrid urban transportation systems that include both formal and informal transit services. Roger is an Associate Professor in the University of Cape Town’s Department of Civil Engineering. He is Director of the Centre for Transport Studies, and of the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport (ACET). He graduated with a Master Degree in City and Regional Planning from UCT in 1991, and with a PhD degree in 2002. His current research activities relate to: the integration and improvement of paratransit services; the dynamics and pace of changing travel behavior; the use of transport systems by pedestrians; and the urban form prerequisites for viable public transport networks.
As two officials of a distressed public agency facing down the consequences of a long history of underinvestment, we are acutely sensitive to the need to get things done on a budget. We are also technologists, which brings us to the idea and potential of digital placemaking for mobility infrastructure: the repurposing of web, mobile and other software and hardware tools to bring new value to the places around the physical nodes and artifacts of the transit system.
Digital tools are often limited to a public engagement role in placemaking. We believe that they can play an important role in transit agency efforts to make its physical infrastructure work better for people.
Infrastructure is a place where climate action, business interests, and political will have the potential to intersect. Infrastructure investment tends to be a bipartisan, business-friendly policy, in large part because the need is so great. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the United States will need to spend $3.6 trillion between 2010 and 2020 to simply maintain our current transportation, water, and energy infrastructure. Yet there is an estimated funding shortfall of $1.6 trillion, or approximately 45% of the total requirement. In the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report card, most infrastructure categories received a D+, with only one category, solid waste infrastructure, receiving a B- or higher.
As cities grapple with urban growth and climate change placing more people and economic activity in harm’s way, the resilience of critical infrastructures, and of the assets that make up these infrastructures, is coming increasingly under the spotlight. However, this is a complex issue, and not all its dimensions are well understood. This article attempts to explore them.
Cities can be thought of as “systems of systems”, where energy, water, communications, transportation, healthcare, law and order, data, and other physical systems (not to mention social, political and economic systems) interact. From this perspective, many issues arise.
Some countries and cities can identify their critical systems and assets (it is, for example, a Federal requirement for cities to do this in the US), but very few can identify how they are linked to each other. As a result, they have no way to identify and manage the associated inter-dependencies. In many cases, as with the grid failure example, the existence of these linkages may not even be fully understood by all the entities affected, and accordingly come as a highly unwelcome surprise. Achieving critical infrastructure resilience therefore requires investing time and effort to identify and maintain relevant and up-to-date data on these linkages.
The Los Angeles River is now center stage in discussions of open space and recreation, active transportation, regional watershed management, ecosystem restoration, climate resilience, and public art transforming the LA region. The river winds through 51 miles of industrial lots, open space areas, and residential neighborhoods. In the most populous U.S. County, the LA River has potential to serve millions of people.
Communities around the world are accelerating their response to the current wave of digital innovations and they have good reason to. Digitalization can be considered a critical ingredient in the recipe of our sustainable communities of today and tomorrow – in the broadest sense of the word – economically, socially and environmentally. Digitalization carries the means and the organizational paradigm to not just do things slightly more efficiently, but differently and better. The design shift it affords can help us collectively tackle some of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced, such as climate change, the need for sustainable and affordable energy, fair and sufficient levels of water and food distribution, and education and healthcare for all in a world where the population continues to grow. And of course, it should help us arrive at solutions and services that will allow burgeoning cities to thrive.
In 2014, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs announced that the majority of humans were residing in urban environments for the first time in recorded history. As the world’s population centers become more densely urbanized, average temperatures in these areas are on the rise. The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect can be felt on any typical hot and sunny day in cities like Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. In the middle of the city, concrete highways and structures absorb UV rays from the sun and radiate heat into the surrounding area. If you were to venture outside of these cities to less densely populated rural areas, you may find temperatures up to 27℉ lower.
This vast increase in temperature isn’t only an issue while the sun is out. Nighttime temperatures in urban areas have been found to be as much as 22℉ higher than air temperatures in neighboring, less developed areas. The UHI effect is exacerbated by removing green spaces, which leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution levels. Removing green spaces puts a strain on other critical urban infrastructure such as the energy grid, water quality and public health systems. Redeveloping underutilized land, such as vacant lots or former industrial and commercial sites, presents excellent opportunities to rethink UHI mitigating factors such as the urban tree canopy, green roofs, and other issues related to site design and building materials. Land recycling presents an opportunity to design from the ground up in anticipation of the our changing climate and the demands it will place on all of us.
As the leader of a transportation agency, there is no shortage of people ready to tell me how technology is going to revolutionize the way we do business. Autonomous vehicles, on-demand sensors, drone-based package delivery, solar-powered roads, road-straddling super-buses (that one turned out to a bust); it’s a veritable cornucopia of real and not-so-real revolutions. And within that world of technophiles, there’s a subset waiting to tell me (and you) about how wireless communications will underlie and enable all of those revolutions to our transportation systems. As with so many things in life, they’re totally right, and yet it’s so much more complicated.
Rhyzome Networks has undertaken a project to upgrade the equipment used for wireless access in order to create stronger connections between the root access points and the repeaters. Our new network does not rely on the original projects wireless mesh and fibre combination, and instead uses wireless point-to-point and fibre for the backhaul of information and the aging 7181 access points will be swapped out in favor of Aruba units.
Our journey into telecommunications began in 2009 as an initiative to provide a backhaul for Festival Hydro’s smart metering system. That project led us down a path to offering wireless and fibre optic connections. It became clear early on in the project that the infrastructure we were putting in place provided us with the opportunity to create a robust backbone that would support the offering of affordable internet and other connectivity options in a community that was, at the time, largely overlooked by the big players in the Canadian telecommunications space.
This week, we’re featuring a three part article series from Meeting of the Minds co-founder, Gordon Feller, on cities and cybersecurity. This is the final article in the series.
As a city’s digital infrastructure improves, the distribution of digital skills and the culture of the digital economy will also improve — making it more likely that as each gets better, the city’s goals can be achieved more effectively. Cities can attract and retain higher quality workers if and when cities draw more businesses, new investments, and improved social and cultural amenities. Through joint planning between varied stakeholders (including the city government, businesses, and artists), all involved can thrive off each other and do so at a lower cost, thanks to shared resources in the cloud, accessible via mobile networks, etc.
City leaders increasingly understand that there must be a sustained investment in the digital economy’s hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure. This means investing in both traditional assets (e.g., transport, housing) as well as new assets for digital success (e.g., broadband, sensors, big data and analytics). It means nurturing skills and capabilities in design, creativity and innovation that represent an increasingly important part of the new “capital stock” from which cities square the circle of sustainable growth and social inclusion.
This week, we’re featuring a three part article series from Meeting of the Minds co-founder, Gordon Feller, on cities and cybersecurity. This is the second article in the series.
In yesterday’s blog post I put forward an idea: tech-powered urban innovations will not only make cities more efficient, they’ll help to transform how those cities operate, how they connect with (and listen to) citizens and visitors, and that may portend even bigger changes on the near-horizon.
The range of functions that a smart city can integrate digitally is growing exponentially. It typically includes connected and remotely accessible city assets or public spaces in which connectivity allows new patterns and styles of public engagement and municipal service delivery. But a smart city also introduces tremendous value through more mundane, but equally important, functions like parking, lighting, security, Wi-Fi and energy management. As IoT grows, cities (or even regions) can more affordably invest in and increasingly benefit by sharing their capabilities.