What is a Smart City? If you asked this question to five different people, there is a good chance you may get five different answers. If I had to answer this for myself I would not know where to begin, but what I would know is technology and connectivity are at the core of it. Deborah Acosta, the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of San Leandro, recently attended Kansas City’s Gigabit City Summit and had a great response when we asked her to give us her opinion of what a smart city is.
“Defining a Smart City is like the proverbial story about a group of blind men trying to describe the totality of an elephant after touching only one unique part: one man, touching only the leg, thought the elephant was shaped like a tree! A Smart City is a fiber optic based, digitally connected community, one in which all stakeholders have access to gigabit speeds at home, at work, and at school. The fast speeds of gigabit internet technology support a data rich environment within service verticals (transportation, energy, public spaces, etc.). Shared data across these verticals facilitate collaboration and policy making between residents, business owners, NGO’s, government, utilities, and others promote decisions that are well informed by data.”
Our president, Kevin Honomichl’s definition of a Smart City went something like this,
“A city which is technology enabled meaning it has the ability to connect and support all sorts of activity, from commercial activity, research interests down to the “smart” stuff. This connectivity also needs to be uniform, meaning, not just available in a particular area of town or not just available for $1000/month. It needs to be widely available so that you don’t have to be in a certain location, or be a certain status to have access. It has to be something so uniform that when deployed into the public infrastructure, it is easily utilized at the small business level but also leveraged at the highest corporate level that might exist.”
What does it take for your city to become a Smart City? Well first and foremost, technology. However, after the logistic side to become a Smart City, your city needs to have the civic leadership which is informed and capable of supporting that kind of innovation. The leadership needs to be forward thinking about how efficiencies can be gained, and opportunities created by causing connectivity to happen, and by nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit. It may only be a little bit about technology and more about the idea generation and the entrepreneurial activity which involves around it. Kansas City has been fortunate enough to have civic leadership behind the Smart City movement from the beginning. Smart City is about smart civic leadership.
The next question you may have is what is coming next? Well that is the million-dollar question because in the age of “there is an app for that,” the speed of technology advancements is definitely not standing in the way of the next big thing. What is in the way is the worry about personal data privacy. Meaning, do we want smart sensors on the light poles? The answer that some will have is no, not if they read license plates, not if they know what store I have been in, not if they can do facial recognition and the list can go on and on. The general public has a real problem with data privacy, which is definitely not a bad thing, but that could hinder a lot of technology advancement opportunities that exist.
So what is coming? Well we know there are going to be changes in transportation. A term which some might have heard on the street is TNC (Transportation Network Companies) which are the ubers, lyfts, etc. and the things that resemble those, maybe even public transit. Could this affect the automobile industry? Yes, it absolutely could. According to Lee Associates Link , Google plans to sell driverless cars by 2020. And in the distant future, will we even own cars? There is a possibility each of you reading this may not, instead, what if you had a timeshare where you get 40 hours a week of a car? That might just be okay because if you look out of your window right now, how many empty seats do you see within the cars that are driving by? So we know there are going to be changes in transportation with vehicle technology and with the disruption being caused by TNC’s.
So what are the benefits of a Smart City? With the evolution of communication networks, it could create the kind of connectivity for cities to grow the gigabit economy or the gigabit society. When we asked this same question to Deborah Acosta, this was her response,
“A Smart City, built on an open data architecture, will encourage more informed engagement by the public; will be a platform for entrepreneurs to develop improvements in energy efficiency and generation, health, advanced manufacturing, transportation; provide local entrepreneurs greater access to global collaborations and sales opportunities. The Digital Divide will begin to fade as access to the fiber optic infrastructure and data rich environment accelerate openings of opportunities to new markets. A Smart City is one built on shared data that informs effective and equitable decision making.”
So you may be asking yourself what is it that YOU want to benefit from your city becoming a Smart City? This question has endless answers. Just like the question about what is a Smart City, you could ask this question to five different people and receive five different answers. To some it may be the changes in transportation which is the most exciting to them. Maybe it will make the roads less dangerous for the next generation, maybe it will save you from making a car payment each month, or maybe it is the use of the self-driving car. It’s definitely a question worth asking yourself because 10 years from now the answer you come up with could very well be your new reality.