Smart cities pilot a revolution for prosperous living

On the heels of the industrial revolution, Paris and New York, two of the world’s grandest cities, were transformed by subterranean networks that connected people and neighborhoods like never before. The onset of subway trains launched these cities into a new age, changing the paradigm of urban identity forever as people now had the opportunity to work and shop beyond their place of birth.

Transportation networks are just one example of the many systems that interconnect cities and enhance life for millions in America and around the world. With 70 percent of the global population expected to migrate to urban environments by 2050, governments are considering how they will accommodate that growth, and seek to add more connectivity through intelligent networking and environmentally-conscious design. The end goal is to transform how people live and work, and open the door to greater prosperity.

Technology enhances lives

Philip Bane, managing director of the Smart Cities Council, a global network of “smart city” practitioners and innovators, works to “humanize technology and to make cities livable, workable and sustainable. We want to extend the benefits of technology to human beings, those that are disadvantaged, and be able to create jobs.”

Philip Bane
Philip Bane

Philip Bane, managing director of the Smart Cities Council speaking at the Washington Post Live Connected Cities forum.

With smart technology and visionary leadership, cities can address problems like infrastructure challenges, food and water shortages, operational inefficiency and constrained budgets.

People who live and work in cities are the focus of ‘smart’ design and planning. The intention behind each smart city program is to improve outcomes for individuals: They are developed with efficiency, green technology, data sharing, intelligent networking and cost savings in mind.

Smart city programs can help residents by providing digital ‘eyes and ears’ to infrastructure, using information and communications technology that monitors the safety and operations of energy and water systems, transportation networks, human services and law enforcement operations.

And with approximately 7 billion cellular connections across the globe, mobile capability “represents unparalleled innovation, infrastructure investment and economy of scale,” said Steve Crout, senior director of government affairs at Qualcomm Incorporated. “Qualcomm Technologies is leveraging its experience in wireless communications to reimage the role of technology and connectivity in today’s cities.”

Steve Crout, senior director of government affairs for Qualcomm Incorporated making opening remarks at the Washington Post Live Connected Cities forum. 

Progress, city by city

The smart city movement has caught on around the country, and globally. North Miami Beach, Florida uses smart water infrastructure equipped with leak detection technology, allowing the city’s water utility to identify leaks and save 27 million gallons of water plus $38,000 annually in costs. And San Diego expects to save more than $250,000 each year in electricity and maintenance costs with its intelligent streetlight network that remotely accesses and controls 3,000 lights, improving public safety and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Pittsburgh is piloting a driverless car program on city roads with an eye to economic prosperity. “I want every job related to autonomous vehicles to come to Pittsburgh—mechanics, designers, et cetera,” said Pittsburgh mayor William Peduto.

Visionary partnerships make it possible

Governments, corporations and tech innovators continually reimagine the role of technology and connectivity in cities. At Qualcomm, “we are interested in helping citizens improve their daily lives and making their daily lives more efficient, whether it be through consumer, business or government transactions.

Technology costs money, and adoption across jurisdictions requires resources, commitment and dedicated funding. With that in mind, public policy actors and smart city innovators are partnering to make cities more livable and economically competitive.

Smart cities are a federal priority, and government funding helps jumpstart initiatives in a symbiotic relationship that leverages innovation to create more efficient, engaged cities. The Obama administration allocated $140 billion on research and development of smart city technologies and innovation.

And through the 2009 Recovery and Reinvestment Act, smart grid projects have created almost 50,000 jobs for Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Cities and communities have long been at the forefront of pressing societal challenges and are becoming laboratories of innovation,” said Daniel Correa, senior advisor for innovation policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology. “It’s an iterative process, and pilots prove out some of these concepts. That’s why it’s exciting to have cities involved at the front.”

There is also broad industry support for funding smart city development around the country, with backing from the Information Technology Industry Council, the Smart Cities Council and other trade associations. Lawmakers like Rep. Suzanne Delbene, co-chair of the Internet of Things Caucus, and others are pushing for legislation that helps communities pilot smart city technologies and share best practices. “Innovation involves risks,” DelBene said. “Government needs to understand how that happens and make investments along the way.”

Today’s cities are becoming better connected, more efficient, and kinder to the environment than cities of the twentieth century, and ultimately smarter, improving where we live and work. The implications are far-reaching—intelligent network connectivity helps solve challenges in infrastructure, energy, transportation and communities. Policies that support enhanced telecommunications and the Internet of Things help daily life run more efficiently and safely, and drive progress for the long term.