Glue & Small Parts: What Will Hold Smart Cities Together?
Have you ever watched kids putting a model airplane together? As often as not, with barely more than plastic wings in place, the replica is—to the little aerospace engineers, anyway—ready for flight. But as parents, we see all the remaining pieces scattered about, the tube of glue all but full. It’s obvious to us adults that the small pieces and the glue that holds them together are the most important part.
For those of us in the parking and mobility industry, this is how we view transit policies. They’re the most important part—the glue and intricate pieces holding together something very complex.
This is not to say we shouldn’t put time, effort, budgets, and brain power into developing new technology and modernizing our infrastructure. All of that is 100 percent necessary. The thing is, the technology will come inevitably and, as it does, it will move the levers that give infrastructure optimization the go-ahead.
But when policies are implemented without adequate study or—even worse—after the fact, it creates innumerable ongoing challenges that take more time and resources to correct. Airbnb is a great example. How many cities across the country are scrambling to find a way to let short-term vacation rentals have a piece of the housing pie, without inflating rent prices, impacting hotels, or altering neighborhoods? Had proactive policies been in place prior to the Airbnb phenomenon, the hospitality and real estate industries probably would have balanced, and potentially even complemented, each other.
So, policy making is clearly important. But effective policy making requires a triangle of collaboration between leaders in mobility, technology, and government.
Without this triangle, tomorrow’s smart cities won’t have the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential.
In order to implement the most successful and coordinated policies, our city officials need practical guidance when it comes to formulating them. The good news is, this gives leaders in our industry the opportunity to be advisors, providing clear information and support at national, state, and local levels. Such a collective effort is how we ensure the legal infrastructure for smart-city mobility aligns with the physical infrastructure that makes them convenient.
The reason I’m so emphatic about close collaborative efforts between our industry and our government is that augmenting the policymaking process is not a simple or small task.
On a local level, it will require city-specific laws and regulations that ensure urban hubs can handle faster-than-anticipated population increases, plus a mélange of transportation options (some of which, such as TNCs, buses, and personal vehicles, may compete for riders while sharing road lanes), and infrastructure that’s optimized for everything from technological advancements to local environmental conditions.
On a bigger scale, it’s imperative that policies align with national transportation networks and initiatives. To this extent, mobility policies need to be as smart as the cities in which they’re implemented. I’m talking about agile policies, data-driven policies, and people-first policies. Everything that makes cities smart, makes policies smart as well.
If we can effectively and collectively designate lanes and curbs, technology and data-collection, and private and public organizations, then we can have a fully connected, multi-modal mobility network from coast to coast. One of the main ways we can do this is by ensuring that our policies—our glue and all the small pieces—don’t prevent private vehicle commuting, public transportation, ridesharing, or non-vehicular mobility, but instead consider all of these (and those to come) as a single, dynamic transportation system.
When envisioning smart cities, it’s easy to get caught up thinking about the cool parts, the infrastructure and technology, interconnected devices, cloud-based traffic levers, fully autonomous vehicles, and a plethora of voice-activated luxuries. Essentially, we see only the wings that let Tomorrowland take flight.
But without the right steps in place first, all we’re really working with is an idea of what’s to come. With thoroughly thought-out policies—those intricate pieces and glue—we can make this idea more materialized, to ensure it holds together and has all the parts in place to soar for real.