Will we be Carless in a “Smart City?”


Will we be Carless in a “Smart City?”

A week or so ago I had the privilege of attending the “Smart Cities Connect” event in Austin, TX. After spending a couple of days with the movers and shakers of “Smart Cities”, I realized that I’m not sure what to think.

First of all, I’m in the parking business.  At this event, attended by a large number of cities focused on “Smart,” some of which actually took exhibitor space to promote their “Smartness,” there was no mention of “Parking.”  Well, that’s not quite true, in the program, there were directions as to where to park at the Austin Convention Center.

I did attend one session on “mobility” where two of the panelists were from parking vendors, ParkiFi and Cale.  They were the only parking related companies at the entire event.  At this session I created a furor when I asked “Why parking isn’t a topic for discussion in the “Smart Cities” genre.  I was told on no uncertain terms that they “Loved Parking, ” that “Parking was sexy,” and the like. I told the moderator that there was no need to be defensive, but that I thought that since virtually everyone living in a city had parking on their agenda, it would seem logical that a so called “Smart City” would have it on its agenda too.

I walked into the city of Portland’s booth and asked about their “Smart Parking” component and was told in no uncertain terms that parking wasn’t in their wheel house since the goal was to remove cars, and hence parking, from the city.Move along please, there is nothing to see here.

I began thinking about agendas, and just what the long term agenda of cities trying to become smart actually was. Was it to make the city more livable? Was it to enable the city government to save money by using data to run their operation more effectively? Or was it to redesign the city in the vision of those who had such a vision?

I then read an article by Astrid that we will print in the August Edition of Parking Today where she posits that perhaps rather than focusing on the technology portion of “Smart Cities” that perhaps we should deal in the residents of cities and become “conscious” rather than ‘Smart”.  Her summary:

Perhaps it is time for us to all pause and put people first and technology that serves them second.  In parking, transit, urban planning, it is time for us to look within, engage and listen, thus creating conscious, emotionally intelligent cities and not just cold mechanical smart cities.

I got the feeling at the “Smart Cities Connect” conference, that everyone had an agenda, and few were actually listening to the people in the city. The Exhibitors want to sell gizmos that would find and collect data, the consultants wanted to help cities select the ‘right’ gizmo, and the cities wanted to show off their ‘smartness.’

Let’s face it, delivering electricity and water and lighting services along with more efficient trash collection isn’t really going to make a heck of a lot of difference to me as a resident. I get lights now, I will have lights later. What will make a difference is how I can streamline the parking of my car.

The smart city crowd wants to do away with my car. But have they asked me what I want to do with it?  Probably not.



Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

2 Responses

  1. Well said JVH. It was good to see you at the Austin event and I agree with your take on it. I came away with the same impressions. I was disappointed by the lack of involvement by the parking industry and the lack of welcome by those who are caught up in the fantasy that the need for any parking will soon, and suddenly, disappear.

  2. Great observations. In my experience attending smart city events, parking is always on the agenda. In academic circles, it’s well connected to traffic management and automated parking lots (something we should soon see in autonomous vehicles). It sometimes seems that people are too excited about the technology hype following Elon Musk and the like making totally unrealistic predictions. They think they can jump right forward without waiting for our old infrastructure and behaviors to change; like we can do so overnight. It is right that the face of modern cities changes but it is also right that this change does not remove everything we are used to in a day. With more and more vehicles on the roads and the growing population, parking will be an increasingly difficult problem to solve that will keep us in business for many years to come.

    P.S. Columbus, OH who won the USDOT Smart City Challenge invests heavily in smart parking. From what I know they look into getting 50,000 RFIDs to facilitate downtown parking. New York is running similar experiments with commercial vehicles. The problem when working with cities is that they have limited power to change ordinary people’s behavior. And it is the latter who elect them in the first place. A more grassroots approach and satisfying consumer needs directly is a much better approach.

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