By Chloe Aiello and Carlo Versano
If you’re looking to make a move in 2019, you could do worse than some of the cities below. Each one is using technology ー IoT, machine learning, data analysis, autonomy, A.I. ー to remake the way its citizens interact with their surroundings.
But a smart city is more than just innovative technology, as Mike Barlow and Cornelia Levy-Bencheton, authors of "Smart Cities, Smart Future," told Cheddar. It's about improving lives in concrete, everyday ways.
Smart cities harness the power of "internet, connectivity, and technology" to make cities more livable for the actual humans who live in them, Levy-Bencheton said. And the coming 5G connectivity, which is on the precipice of widespread deployment, will be game-changing in terms of reducing latency to near zero, making even more real-world applications possible in the months to come.
When Toronto was considering how to better integrate technology into its streetscape, it decided to start from the ground up. Literally.
In 2017, the Ontario government partnered with Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google, on a task that would have been a developer’s dream. Toronto would hand over a dozen acres of its derelict eastern waterfront to Sidewalk, which would would create, at a cost of as much as $1 billion, “the world’s first neighborhood built from the internet up.”
Called Quayside, the initial phase of what’s known as Sidewalk Toronto, will use sensors, cameras, and lasers to do everything from detecting building occupancy, to regulating traffic signals to sorting and moving trash. Residents will be able to see when benches are free, and can even be alerted if they leave their pilot light on. Embedded into the infrastructure of the neighborhood, the data will provide a virtual feedback loop that allows algorithms to monitor and make changes on the fly, such as automatically charging a household by how much waste they produce.
Sidewalk Labs says the development, once completed (and it isn’t even shovel ready, yet) will help solve some of the challenges inherent to urban areas: affordability, mobility, and sustainability.
“Let’s just get this out of the way: what we’re planning here is neither cheerful science fiction — like The Jetsons — nor dark and dystopian — like 'Black Mirror,' the company wrote in a blog post.
Not all Torontonians are buying it. Issues about the troves of data that will be hoovered up ー mostly from public spaces ー and handed over to a private company have stoked fears about privacy and thorny questions about Google and the city government have also faced criticism over transparency (the terms of the deal are still yet to be disclosed).
That aside, Quayside could become the first smart city built from scratch. Will it be a paradise of efficiency and sustainability, or an Orwellian nightmare?
In Columbus, Ohio, people can now enjoy free rides on self-driving shuttles that circle downtown. The shuttles are a sign of the progress Columbus has made in a little over two years since the Midwestern city won the Department of Transit’s Smart Cities Challenge.
Starting with the $50 million it won, the city has generated a jaw dropping $500 million in its pursuit to become a national mobility hub.
Integral to its progress is the Smart Columbus Operating System (SCOS), an all-in-one virtual dashboard that aggregates, assimilates and coordinates data about traffic conditions, fire and police reports, electrical grid status, and public transportation in an effort to solve mobility problems, Digital Trends reported. The system also collects data on things like locations of low-lying bridges, food banks, and elderly residents.The city opened SCOS’ data set to public and private organizations to help find innovative mobility solutions.
“The entire thrust behind our Smart City proposal ー one of the reasons we won ー our focus was not on moving people from point A to point B, but leveraging innovation and technology to help people improve their own lives,” Mayor Andrew Ginther told Columbus Business First.
The city is behind in its spending, according to Columbus Business First, because it paused its efforts to rapidly innovate in order to instead target historic inequities. Some of the new priorities of the project include providing services for pregnant women to help reduce infant mortality.
Other projects include providing solar charging equipment for public use, and assembling a fleet of electric vehicles and charging stations. Columbus is also vying to be a test site for the Virgin Hyperloop One, with proposed plans to eventually be included on the Midwest hyperloop route that would connect Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Chicago with a high speed, magnetic train. In a separate move, the state of Ohio decided in November to allow businesses to pay their tax bills in Bitcoin, and officials said they plan to extend the initiative to individual Ohioan taxpayers in the future.
Columbus was among the cities that lost its bid for Amazon’s HQ2, but it did land in the top 20 finalists. In an interview on Cheddar in November, Ginther said Columbus is better for having participated.
"We are really proud of the effort we put in and we think we have a road map to the future. We want to build on and use that road map we put forth, because we know mobility, affordability, and talent are the way we are going to shape economic development," Ginther told Cheddar.
True to its frontier roots, Denver, Colorado, is another pioneer in smart city technology.
On 400 acres of empty land near the Denver Airport, Panasonic is leading the charge on a transit-oriented, mixed-use development. It has installed LED street lights, pollution sensors, a solar-powered microgrid, and WiFi, among other things, Business Insider reported. And self-driving shuttles are to come. The solar-powered microgrid can power the district for 72 hours in case of an outage. A smart road, called Road X, ultimately aims to communicate with self-driving cars to cut down on congestion and accidents. The development is called Pena Station NEXT, and it’s part of Denver’s smart city transformation.
In 2016, Denver was selected as one of seven finalists in the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge ー $50 million in federal funding was on the line. When Denver ultimately lost out to Columbus, Ohio, city officials were disappointed, but not defeated. Mayor Michael Hancock reasserted the city’s commitment to the mobility solutions and partnerships formed for the city’s pitch.
“While we're disappointed Denver did not receive the funding, we created a clear roadmap that will help deliver mobility freedom to everyone who needs to get around town,” Hancock said in a statement.
Denver’s pitch was not for naught. Denver did walk away with some money and support from public/private partnerships, thanks to the Department of Transit. And it has forged ahead in absence of the $50 million. Aside from its Pena Station NEXT project, Denver is working to apply smart solutions to encourage electric vehicle adoption, monitor the quality of air, and develop accessible and connected multimodal transportation.
What began as an experiment by Qualcomm to reduce energy waste at the airport, university campus, and baseball stadium in its hometown of San Diego has morphed into what’s being called the world’s largest smart city platform.
San Diego is using Internet of Things technology developed by Qualcomm to monitor energy and water waste at large venues like Petco Park, with a goal of reducing waste by 25 percent over five years. For a major city in drought-prone California, that’s work that can be replicated in other parched areas.
The city also retrofitted 38,000 streetlights with more efficient LED lights and is in the process of installing adaptive control fixtures that will save the government an estimated $2.8 million per year.
San Diego’s smart initiatives touch other municipal sectors, as well, such as traffic management, and a major initiative to install sensors at its crowded port. The city’s partnership with Qualcomm, which dates to the semiconductor maker’s founding in 1985, has given it a head start in creating a smart city of the future ー available today.
San Jose, California, may be lesser known than the neighboring tech cities of San Francisco and Palo Alto, but make no mistake, the California city is smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley ー and it has the real estate prices to prove it.
As the $1 million median home value goes to show, gone are the days when working and middle classes could still afford to own homes and raise families in San Jose.
San Jose is now working to address its affordability crisis. The city was one of five worldwide to win IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge grant in 2017. The grant provides the winners technical support from IBM as officials attempt to solve pressing issues, like providing affordable housing and social services.
According to State Scoop, San Jose will use the grant resources to tackle two main projects. The first is a “rental unit registry” that includes a data dashboard to help the city track rent-controlled homes and apartments, in order to protect tenants from retaliatory evictions, substandard housing and rent control violations. The second is a website to guide to assist prospective renters with the cumbersome search and application process for affordable housing.
Inclusiveness is just one part of San Jose’s plan to introduce smart technology into the infrastructure of the city known as a hotbed for tech. Other initiatives in its Smart City Vision include developing free or low-cost WiFi and building an Internet of Things platform to manage transit vehicles and infrastructure.
Steel City is known more for its past as a factory town than for its present position on the bleeding edge of urban mobility innovation. But ever since Uber moved in, Pittsburgh has re-positioned itself as one of the leaders of the smart city movement, with a focus on autonomous drivinger.
In the spring, Pittsburgh was selected to be part of the Smart Cities Collaborative, which is currently working on issues related to curb space, right of way, and other urban transit challenges. The working group is expected to deliver policy proposals in the first half of 2019, which Pittsburgh officials say will be actionable solutions to core mobility problems.
Much of Pittsburgh’s innovation can be traced to Carnegie Mellon University, which is now one of the leading institutions working on autonomous driving and other A.I. technologies. The city effectively works as a real-world R&D lab for Carnegie Mellon students and researchers to test new technologies, and was one of the factors in Uber’s decision to base its self-driving hub there, along with “green light governing” ー the non-interventionist approach taken by the city to promote experimental tech. After a fatal crash earlier this year halted Uber’s self-driving pilots nationwide, the company has reapplied for permits to get its autonomous cars back on Pittsburgh’s public roads, likely in the new year.
Chicago is using new technology to solve a very old urban problem: rats. In 2011, the city had a serious rat problem. According to City Lab, the city fielded 34,000 rodent-related complaints that year.
To combat the rats, Chicago enlisted the help of Carnegie Mellon University’s Daniel Neill, a computer scientist adept at predictive technology. Using three years of rat data and complaints about everything from overflowing trash bins to building vacancies, he altered a model that was designed to detect crime to instead predict when populations of rodents would spike.
It worked, and now Chicago is rat free ー just kidding, it’s not even close. But the city continued to use Neill’s predictive analytics program and later bragged it was its 20 percent more effective than traditional methods of rat extermination, City Lab reported.
In 2013, Chicago won the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, according to Bloomberg Cities, for its plan to create a predictive analytics SmartData Platform. It has since had some other predictive technology successes including the development of an algorithm to predict which restaurants are likely to be in violation of health codes.
Of all the smart city candidates, San Francisco is the most likely. It’s ground zero for technological innovation, with one of the most tech-savvy citizenries in the world and a culture of early adoption.
And indeed, San Francisco is working on several projects that use IoT to help ease the famously congested city’s mobility challenges.
The City by the Bay expanded its demand-based parking meter system a year ago. SFPark uses algorithms to generate constantly changing prices for parking based on demand, which is determined by sensors that monitor occupancy rates. The pricing system is similar to the way airline bookings work. Rates fluctuate from 50 cents to $8 an hour, though the city says the goal is not to wring more revenue out of already-expensive downtown parking. Rather, dynamic pricing is a way to make parking easier for residents and limit pollution. SFMTA says the program helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions in neighborhoods it’s in by 30 percent.
And it’s not bad for the economy, either. An early pilot found that sales-tax revenues went up 35 percent in neighborhoods with dynamic parking meters, as opposed to 20 percent in other areas.
San Franciscans who don’t drive aren’t being left out of the city’s smart revolution. The region’s separate public transit systems are working on a way for customers to pay fares with a single app or contactless card across systems. And there’s a massive [infrastructure project] (https://www.sfmta.com/projects/van-ness-improvement-project) underway to build a bus rapid transit system that will use sensors to coordinate with traffic signals in order to give buses priority as they approach. That, in turn, will also limit emissions, and make the city easier to get around for those who can’t afford to drive.
And it’s an example of why the smart city revolution is so important: it’s not only about shiny new technologies to solve minor headaches ー it’s about making cities better, and more equitable places to live.
For full interview click here.