The Smart City movement continues to gain momentum for good reasons. From health and human services to transportation to public safety to helping underserved neighborhoods, astute civic leaders see how Smart City solutions address key needs throughout their cities. They are able to communicate how developing a Smart City is about improving overall operations for the long-term benefit of their cities.
While the definition of a Smart City varies by community, its core purpose is to use technology to collect, analyze, and share vehicle- and infrastructure-based data from multiple sources. This data is then converted into information that residents and visitors can use to make informed transportation decisions. It is important to realize that there is no “one size fits all” plan to become a Smart City.
However, one aspect common to Smart Cities is the breaking down of internal and external silos, so that cooperation toward a common vision is achieved. It is imperative that municipal departments, related jurisdictions, bus and rail systems, ride-share companies, parking management companies, utilities, communication solution providers, and cloud computing companies be committed to creating a robust communications network and data-sharing platform that supports collaborative working relationships and seamless intermodal transportation solutions.
As an example, officials in Columbus, Ohio, used this approach to create the groundwork for its Smart City initiative. Two years ago, it won the U.S. DOT $40 million Smart City Challenge, besting 77 other cities. It also received an additional $10 million for its proposal from the Paul G. Allen Foundation.
What earned Columbus this grant was an all-encompassing vision that demonstrated how transportation infrastructure would reconnect neighborhoods and offer residents better access to jobs, groceries, education, healthcare, and recreation. It included a foundational element of a data management platform available to users within city departments to help them do their jobs better. In turn, they can create helpful information that is available to commuters, the freight community, transit agencies, and others.
Data drives planning, results
From a systems standpoint, a Smart City is about the data and the entities that originate, process, distribute, and use it. The data must travel over a communications network, which is foundational to a Smart City, from the data collection points in the field to an analytics platform to the information distribution mechanisms at the other end. The means to accomplish each of these steps may vary by city. However, this simple model provides a system framework to transform data from multiple sources into actionable information for users.
Institutionally, there has to be an organizational framework that supports Smart Cities. Municipal leaders must help create the partnership framework that is required to attract investment from the private sector. The business community also must be engaged to support new applications that come out of these systems. Entrepreneurs and start-up companies also can help create new applications for communities, which in turn, may generate new jobs.
Creating a Smart City isn’t a “one and done” proposition. The partnership framework has to be a lasting element that continues and expands the goals and objectives of a city as it progresses.
Concept reaches beyond cities
Columbus is by no means operating alone. The 77 other cities in the DOT competition have gained strong momentum with their Smart Cities programs. Austin, Texas; Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; Pittsburgh; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco are but a few examples of those moving forward without federal grants. In addition to the cities that competed for the DOT grant, many other cities, large and small, are moving forward with plans to implement Smart City solutions based on their unique needs.
Kansas City is a prime example of the Smart Cities movement. Its leaders recently released an RFP for a partnership proposal from the private sector, or from a team of private sector companies, to come in and help them build its program for a Smart City.
Smart City concepts reach beyond city limit signs. One example is greater Jacksonville, Fla., where the transportation planning organization (TPO) has established a plan for a Smart Region. The Smart Region Plan identifies regional goals, which are reflected in project priorities and the allocation of Federal transportation funds. This is an effective model in which a TPO or metropolitan planning organization (MPO) can lead the charge for a regional approach.
State officials are seeing the benefits Smart Cities can deliver. They’re examining ways they can leverage these solutions statewide. In fact, the Florida Department of Transportation is considering conducting its own statewide Smart Cities challenge.
Momentum speeding ahead
Regardless of their size, most cities have similar goals for success. Their leaders want to provide greater, better, and more efficient services to their constituents. This requires planning, deliberate efforts and leadership. It will take hard work to build the partnership framework and enter win-win agreements for community and private-sector entities. Silos must continue to come down, as well.
As more smart cities are developed, it is our responsibility as transportation planners and advocates to help municipal leaders remain current and flexible with technology solutions and alternative delivery systems. The goal? To help them provide sustainable frameworks that will last for decades.
This may be a different way of thinking for some of us. However, with a strong, collaborative vision, cities can approach challenges with intention and unequaled planning, and create smart communities of all types and sizes for generations to come.
Jim Barbaresso is National Practice Leader, Intelligent Transportation Systems, for HNTB Corp.