“Smart City” — Not Just Another Buzz Word


“Smart City” — Not Just Another Buzz Word

I have been browsing through Parknews.biz. I entered the phrase “Smart City” in the search box and I found that Editor Astrid had put up over 40 stories about this term in the past few months. She thought it was important for us, so I began to read.

For those of you living in a cave for the past few years, the term refers to collecting data from tens of thousands of sensors within a city, and then using that data to make the city more efficient and livable. This includes, traffic, water, electricity, waste disposal, sewage, and parking.

This is all well and good.  A city suddenly has a gillion bits of data. They are all sliced and diced on a dashboard.  Now what. This is what concerns me about all this “big data” stuff.  What is being done with it?  Wen and Diego at Smarking visit your company, insert their software and voila, you have a ton of data.  But what are you doing with it?  How is it affecting your business, your customer service, your bottom line/ Who is responsible for using that data to its full effect. (We have a seminar at PIE on this very topic.)

I’m told every large city in Australia has hired an expensive (over $250K) manager to oversee Smart City data. Stories posted on Parknews.biz tell us that Kansas City, MO, has hired a “Chief Innovation Officer” to make sure the money they spend on “Smart City” stuff is spent wisely.

Just what are some of the results of using Smart City Data.

A city in India is monitoring the water supply and is able to send a text message to the citizens telling them when the water is safe to drink. (There is some irony in that sentence but I digress.)

Another city monitor’s traffic and texts when a certain street is jammed so drivers can select alternate routes.

A third monitors street lights and is able to dim then when ambient light is high enough to take over.

OK, fine. But where can this go in the future…

If we include video, the city can know where crowds are and perhaps schedule more buses into the area. Perhaps it could notify merchants that foot traffic is up in their area and they could prepare for more potential customers.

We are already seeing electric and water meters read ‘on line’ (although I haven’t received a water bill since my new meter was installed six months ago.)  Street cleaning can be monitored so parking citations could be written ahead of the sweeper, but not after it passed. Traffic signals could be ‘adjusted’ to take care of jammed streets. Sensors could tell the city when water usage seemed too high (it could indicate a leak in a water main.)  The list is endless.

However, it seems to me that a city needs to determine what it is going to do with the data, and then cost justify the high expense of installing sensors and data collectors, before it jumps in to the “Smart City” world. High powered “innovation officers’ need to be on line before the first dollar is spent.

We need to be sure that becoming a smart city isn’t just a buzz word a mayor uses to get reelected or a company uses to sell software to a municipality.

There is value in knowing what is going on in your city and certainly using ‘Smart City’ software is a way to get it. We need to be cautious that we know what we are doing before we begin to swim in terabytes of data.



Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. Part of the smart city stuff in the UK is that the utilities, gas and electricity are trying to sell us all on having “free” smart meters. At the moment adoption is optional and if you sign up they install it free. That’s like free parking, they add the cost to everyone’s bill whether you have the meters or no. I looked into this and apparently the smart meter will tell me when I have a light on, whoopee! I said No thanks and so far I am pretty certain I still know when I have a light on.

    Now here’s the thing; someone who is smarter than me has looked at how much electricity/gas people who have the gizmos actually save; and apparently its 20 plus years to pay back the meter cost. That’s a meter that probably has a design life of say ten years.

    Not sure that this is too good a definition of smart; although, for me it seems a pretty good description of dumb

    Another case perhaps of someone not understanding that change and improvement are not synonyms?

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