Smart Cities: How Leading Cities are Implementing Development Plans

IMG_0054_editAt this year’s CompTIA Annual Member Meeting held last week in Chicago there was a fascinating panel session titled, “Smart Cities – How Leading Cities are Implementing Development Plans,” moderated by David Logsdon, senior director, federal advocacy at CompTIA. Three of the five winning cities of the Smart Cities Council (SSC) Challenge Grant program were present including Austin, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis. Panelists from those cities detailed what they are doing to develop and execute smart city community plans.

The Smart City Challenge program was announced last year in conjunction with a host of White House initiatives around Smart Cities Week. The winning cities were selected from a pool of over 150 applicants. Other grant winners include Orlando and Miami. All winning cities get advice from the Smart City Council in planning their projects including a readiness workshop and products and services from council member companies including CompTIA. Other firms involved include Ameresco, AT&T, CH2M, Dow Building and Construction, IDC, Qualcomm, Sensus, Telit, TM Forum and Transdev.

Panelists included Jay Boisseau, president and founder, Austin CityUP, CEO and co-founder, Vizias; Ellen Hwang, program manager for innovation management, Office of Innovation and Technology City of Philadelphia; and Erik Hromadka, CEO and board chairman, Global Water Technologies.

Boisseau talked about how Austin is becoming a smart city with the help of Austin CityUP, a consortium of public and private sector organizations that share a vision – to create a comprehensive, integrated, inclusive, evolving, sustainable smart city infrastructure. “We are a very inclusive group,” he said. “Our focus is not so much Austin, but integration at a city scale. We have over 50 members, many are Austin-based and some are national and global organizations. To attract all parties, members can’t compete with one another—only provide support for each other. We inform members of city priorities, encourage collaboration and new projects and look into funding challenges. Our ultimate goal is to help Austin achieve smart city status by bringing local businesses and nonprofits together to work with city governments. The idea is to leverage all these resources to find solutions to common problems.”

Boisseau said there are many smart cities projects but there are no smart cities – yet. He noted that smart cities are an expansive, challenging issue with many components: the stakeholder which is every resident, visitor, business and organization; domains including safety, housing, transportation, health, education, jobs; and funding. He noted that cities have little discretionary money, and while there is a rough constant revenue from taxes, many of the smart city projects go over budget with costs that can range from two to nine figures.

To be a smart city, Boisseau stressed that there are two key dimensions – data and funding. “Data is the fuel for a smart city,” he said. “Smart cities use technologies to collect data, analyze data, and improve decisions – automated or human – from smart traffic signals to better plans for economic development and workforce development.” He said data access, integration and rapid analytics across source departments is challenging but that great data collection, hosting and analytics infrastructure is the engine for a smart city.

As for funding, Boisseau noted that smart needs to be built into budgeting for existing city services and infrastructure. “Cities should explore new funding models, for example, smart kiosks, supported by ads, private equity funds for smart infrastructure,” he said.

Boisseau and Austin CityUp are preparing a strategic smart city roadmap for Austin. Austin will use its Readiness Workshop on April 12 to develop strategies to invite underserved populations to participate in designing solutions for their mobility needs, as well as affordable housing and economic development. The city, which is growing rapidly, is concentrating its efforts on reaching people who could benefit from a government that’s more responsive to their needs.

Hwang said that the purpose of a smart city is to provide better services to its’ citizens. Philadelphia is using the program to facilitate collaboration for building a regional smart cities ecosystem. She believes to make that happen there needs to be foundational components to support smart cities including collaboration with committed leadership, the research community, data and communications infrastructure; education, business, and civic communities; and the skilled civic tech community. “Smart cities is not an end to the means, but a larger goal of being a better government to our community,” she said. “At the end of the day we are one team with one goal: We want to serve the public better.”

How will Philadelphia get there? Hwang said that active stakeholder engagement is at the center. Philadelphia received 106 responses from companies operating worldwide. Based on the information gleaned from these responses, they are issuing an RFP for a vendor to help them develop a roadmap for smart cities projects. The intent is to further build and strengthen that coalition of city, community, business and educational institutions to receive input into the plan.

Hwang added, “We will finalize the roadmap by the end of December and then present the plan to various communities in 2018.”

Hromadka will use the Smart City Challenge program to facilitate emerging initiatives in smart utilities and transportation sectors. He said the city holds many key smart city assets including a history of private and public partnerships, a dynamic tech sector and a collaborative community. He said key smart city opportunities exist within transportation. “It’s the home of Blue Indy, a fully electric, car sharing program that was launched in partnership with a French company and provides hundreds of vehicles at charging stations located all over the city,” he said. “The city also operates dozens of plug-in cars in its own fleet and is working on the nation’s first electric bus rapid transit (e-BRT) line.”

Just north of Indianapolis, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) manages delivery of power across the electric grid in 15 states and the Canadian province of Manitoba. “From such large-scale smart systems to alternative energy generation, such as the solar farm at Indianapolis International Airport, there are ample opportunities to utilize smart energy plans to most effectively allocate resources,” Hromadka said.

In addition to the specific smart city tools for transportation, water and energy, there are also synergies that exist among the sectors in Indianapolis. “Smart metering technologies and analytics that can be used for both energy and water are examples,” he said. “Likewise, electric vehicles that can recharge during off-peak hours can create smarter solutions for energy and transportation. The common element in all smart systems is the use of data-driven tools that allow the flexibility to create adaptable solutions that meet the needs of city residents both now and in the future. These systems must also work to serve residents in an inclusive way that connects all neighborhoods and areas of the city.”

He added, “We have a unique opportunity to show national leadership in deployment of smart solutions for water, energy and transportation. This recognition reflects years of hard work and investment in Indianapolis to create a world-class city.”

On May 25, Indianapolis will hold its Smart Cities Readiness workshop. Participants will include government leaders, private sector and academic experts and other key local stakeholders.

All in all it was an interesting session with panelists dedicated to making cities more efficient and sustainable.