“Smart Cities’: Good Idea Or Boondoggle? Plus, Top “Parking Influencer’


“Smart Cities’: Good Idea Or Boondoggle? Plus, Top “Parking Influencer’

 “Smart Cities” – What are they?  What will they be?  Who is driving this philosophy? Is Smart Cities a term in search of a definition?
From what I can glean from the “Internet of Things,” a “Smart City” is one that uses online sensors and devices to collect vast amounts of data about what is happening in a city (everything from trash collection, water delivery and electric services, to policing, parking and traffic) and then is able to use those data to better serve its residents. Those data can also be used to help with master planning, policy decisions, and the like.
The above was my definition. Being rather simplistic, I look to simple descriptions. However, a simple description does not make a simple solution. The creation of a Smart City is not simple. It’s easy to say “collect vast amounts of data” and “use those data to better serve,” but the key is not in the definition; it’s in the execution.
If you Google “Smart City”, you will find a company named Smart City.  It is a communications company that provides such services to large venues (such as Disneyland), hotels and, yes, cities. It seems to understand that the key to a smart city is Communications.  
In March, in my favorite magazine, Stephanie Simmons of IPS Group described a small issue in dealing with communications and smart devices. Do you want all decisions made in the so-called cloud?  Probably not, she said, as communications will be cluttered with “is there a car in this space?” decisions, decisions that could and should be made locally. These kinds of design alterations are under way.
There are millions of decisions like this that have to be made daily in a major city, and are made today. Without them, traffic lights wouldn’t work, water wouldn’t flow, parking meters wouldn’t collect, sewage would back up, and wayfinding wouldn’t find the empty space. Most of them are made without being thought of as “smart.”
So, are our cities already halfway to smart? Probably. What about the rest: “The collection of data and then being able to use it to provide policy and master planning?”
Now we get to the heart of the matter.  When it becomes time to replace my water meter, or the city’s parking meters, the new one has a device that communicates with something, either the next meter or the DWP vehicle that drives down the street, or parking central, and provides information about the device.  The cost of that capability is built into the new meter. 
But what about the cost of huge databases, data collection and, dare I say it, the smarts to be able to “slice and dice” all those data to make them not a bunch of pretty graphs, but information that we can use?
It is projected that, by 2025, the annual spend for “Smart Cities” worldwide will be more than $400 billion. That is a lot of gravy. 
Who is jumping on the train?  You know the names – IBM, Xerox, Siemens, Microsoft, Google, and the rest. Spending $20 million on a database will be small potatoes. These companies are looking to their future.
A friend in Australia tells me that every major city in his country now has a “Chief Digital Officer” to drive the Smart City phenomenon. (He says these folks make upwards of $250,000 per year.) A “Smart City expo” is looming this year in Melbourne. He posits that companies that don’t embrace an entire suite of services for Smart Cities will be left to populate a second tier of suppliers, providing bits and pieces as subcontractors to the major players.
Will Smart Cities be simply a buzzword that politicians use to bolster their bona fides? Will they spend millions to create something that will fizzle out after a few years? How many “sustainability” projects have we seen begin and then drop from sight when the next bright idea comes along?
We need to give this a hard look. Most of the Smart City functions won’t directly touch city residents. Parking does. I can see the city fathers and mothers using our fair industry as an example of how they are going to put their city on the Smart City map. 
We have seen the first attempts with SFpark and LA Express Park that have taken small steps to providing information to drivers. The private sector with app-driven information is pushing hard in this area.
But it can be only the beginning. Most of it, such as pay-by-cell or locating open parking spaces is haphazard. 
But if a city, through a so-called major player, decides to combine all parking information and services under one umbrella, the scenario mentioned above, where most of the suppliers become second tier and end up providing commodity like products and services, will come to pass. Then we ignore all this at our peril.
If parking leads instead of follows, venture capital may begin to flow more freely into our industry. Then who knows. Maybe it will be a smart move to properly embrace a Smart City.
I am humbled and amazed. 
ParkPlus System, the result of the Calgary, Canada, Parking Authority’s step into on-street parking enforcement, has developed a list of the top people to follow on parking in social media and a list of the top organizations in our industry.
Parking Today and yours truly were honored to be on both lists. It’s a pretty heady group, including Don Shoup, Mike Civitelli, the UK’s Manny Rasores de Toro, Singapore’s Paul Barter, and PT Columnist Kathleen Laney. For the full lists, go to getparkplus.com/100-top-parking-influencers-to-follow.
It seems ParkPlus used an app called “Little Bird.” The analytics tool uses Twitter as a base, and then determines activity based on followers and other “black arts.” 
Obviously, I won’t be arguing with the list.
Strangely, I’m speechless.
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