BY KEITH B. JONES | December 20, 2018

By the nature of my profession and personality, I do a lot of forward thinking and future speaking. Tomorrowland, for instance, is my clear albeit distant vision of urban life in the next 30, 50, 100 or more years, long after we’ve stopped referring to smart cities as “cities of the future.”

In fact, millions of people already live in smart cities. Sure, they may lack the fully-automated-everything we think of when we think of smart cities, but make no mistake, big and small, there are plenty around today. They are the cities pushing toward convenience and safety via connectivity. And though they won’t be totally ubiquitous for decades to come, those that are evolving today are paving the way to Tomorrowland.

SMART CITIES AROUND THE WORLD (AND THE CORNER)

When it comes to new urban trends, don’t overlook the Old World. At 172,000 residents, Santander, in northern Spain, is by no means a big city—which is exactly why it’s becoming a smart one. Like many European cities, Santander was not built with 21st-Century populations or trends in mind. But since 2009, 20,000+ sensors have been installed in and around its historic streets. Data-driven mobility solutions in Santander’s compact urban center monitor parking spaces using magnetic fields. The sensors help re-route traffic according to parking availability. The same network of sensors also alert sanitation facilities when garbage cans need to be emptied, activate sprinklers in public parks based on moisture levels, and illuminate path lamps only when people are nearby (accounting for 80% in energy savings).

1,300 miles away, Copenhagen’s City Data Exchange leverages the Internet of Things (IoT) to provide freely available data to anyone who wants it, allowing local bureaus, residents, and corporations to work collectively to respond to variables such as traffic, air quality, even calories burned. Applying smart infrastructure, “The Happiest City in the World” is on-track to also being luxuriously convenient and carbon neutral by 2025.

Here in the US, we’re by no means building dumb cities. Tech hubs coast to coast have been driving solutions with data, software, and infrastructure for a while now. Others, like Cary, North Carolina, are just starting out, but moving quickly.

You’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Cary. In fact, it’s more of a smart town than a smart city, but it’s becoming one of North Carolina’s most desirable places to live. (No doubt, you’re beginning to see a connection between smart infrastructure and desirability. A trend that will undoubtedly continue.) The quality of life and quaint appeal draws new residents faster than it can build new infrastructure.

To stay ahead of population influx, Cary integrated Dell Boomi, a cloud connection platform, with Salesforce to provide active monitoring and notifications to its residences. For instance, if there’s a traffic jam, Boomi alerts the Salesforce CRM, which then notifies residents to find alternative routes. WiFi water meters allow both residents and water facilities to view meter readings online. This helps residents save money while addressing water shortages from increased usage.

USING GROWING PLANS TO AVOID GROWING PAINS

Perhaps in their incipience, smart cities are indeed here. Now we need to focus on smart policies. It’s a “walk before we run” approach. Looking outside our industry, we can see examples of why policy before practice is important.

Just as Uber and Lyft disrupted the transportation industry, AirBnB has disrupted both the short-term rental and the hospitality industries. Lack of policy has forced cities like New York to scramble to address the market shift in ways that mutually benefit both commerce and community.

To avoid wasting time and blowing budgets playing catch-up, we need to begin putting in place the policies that will lead to smart cities today. We’ll then be ready for the innovations that will lead to the smart cities of Tomorrowland.

Even with new policies in place, making the leap to smart city status is impossible without modernizing urban infrastructure and optimizing it for connectivity. Digital connection will make cities more convenient, even safer. But it’s still only half of the solution; the other half is collaboration.

Two months ago, I spoke at the National Parking Association’s annual conference on the Smart Cities Solutions Forum. I addressed the fact that cross-industry collaboration is imperative to ensuring that parking is not seen as part of the problem to smart cities and smart mobility, but a key part of the solution (a solution that’s also a multi-billion-dollar contributor to the US economy).

Without collaborating to shift this parking-is-the-problem paradigm, smart cities won’t evolve as fast or fluidly as possible. Transitioning away from a mobility free-for-all to industry collaboration is imperative to modernizing urban infrastructure. Do this, and we’ll ameliorate congestion in the near future and avoid it in the long term.

WHY STRIVE FOR INTELLIGENT DESIGN?

Santander, Copenhagen, and Cary are real-life smart cities. They exist today. You can visit them, if you wish. In fact, I’d encourage you to. I’d encourage you to invite your city officials along with you to experience greater levels of convenience and connectivity, of flow and order, and to see what solutions exist today.

The shift towards smart cities is not an ego thing; we’re not designing intelligent cities just because data is cool. It’s a necessary stride urban areas of all sizes need to make in order to keep ahead of (or catch up with) the population density curve.

Intelligent infrastructure design recognizes that most urban problems, from increased population to reduced mobility, are in some way connected. Hence the connected solutions that define smart cities. No urban area, connected or not, is without looming obstacles. But as technology, data, infrastructure, and policies each influence and integrate with the others, countless more opportunities for higher quality lifestyles will be illuminated, like the pathways of Santander.

“Ace Mobility Solutions isn’t just a business. It’s the Mobility Revolution in action.”

Keith B. Jones
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