In today’s urban world, Smart Cities are the new trend in the administration and efficiency of our urban environment. The focus of the smart city is technological, based on information and communication technology (ICT), sensor devices, data collection, and other applications being developed by high tech companies, many of them here in San Diego, California.
On April 15-17 of this year, the City of San Diego hosted the Smart City Week at the Marriot Marquis San Diego Marina.
It is organized by the Smart City Council with main offices based in Reston, Virginia, a network of companies assisting cities and regions in implementing technology to achieve a more livable, workable and sustainable world. The event held conferences, workshops, roundtable discussions and a small vendor area showcasing different technologies. After the first day, participants got to attend a Padres baseball game at Petco Park.
The sessions were planned mostly for three types of audiences such as developers, government entities, and private organizations who are involved in the administration and development of neighborhoods, towns and large cities. The Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), founded in 1969 and one of the biggest names in the geographic information system sector (GIS) had a two hour session showcasing their new applications for real-time data mapping for urban traffic and pedestrian flow, building scenario planning, as well as new open data platforms for civic organizations.
Along with Oracle and their optimization construction management products and Autodesk leading the field in Building Information Modeling (BIM), ESRI is now at the forefront of transitioning the fields of city planning, architecture design and construction process completely digital.
Another product ESRI launched recently to the market is ArcGIS Indoors which enables interactive indoor mapping of corporate facilities, retail and commercial locations, airports, hospitals, event venues, universities, and more. In terms of open data, the company has election management tools as well as survey applications that invite the general public and civil society to engage in the decision-making process of urban planning and policy.
For instance and according to the ESRI representative, the company is helping U.S. cities map the movement of the homeless population through Obamacare distributed phones for real-time management.
Smart City technology is being deployed at an accelerated pace in many cities around world, without consideration of the ethical issues that might arise around personal data and public metrics compiled and integrated into digital systems or resold as data packets.
André Corrêa d’Almeida, Ph.D., who is an Adjunct Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University presented bottom-up strategies that cities can implement to integrate smart city technologies and protocols. He emphasized two crucial phases to build a data management plan for cities.
First, he advised mapping existing activities and departments that are already working as a network in order to enhance their efficiency and secondly only make available open data once trust was achieved between all the members of the system. Sharing data for the sake of it and before surveying efficiencies in existing networks has not functioned well in many cities such as New York.
There exist three primary challenges for most of our urban areas, and they are economic growth, mobility, and resilience where smart city technology can use data to optimize a cities’ s operation structure. According to Almeida, data is going to become the oil of the 21st century.
On the last morning session of the event, government and companies’ administrators discussed the future implications of 5G wireless connectivity. With the title “5G Cities” four speakers presented their case on why a faster mode of connectivity would be the key to integrating smart city technology more efficiently.
Jeffrey Torrance vice president of Qualcomm mentioned that technologies like 5G are more critical to more extensive applications and devices such as autonomous vehicles and the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), than just for smartphones.
Cities in developing countries have an enormous task before they include 5G as their wireless system; for instance, Mexico City still needs to install fiber optic cable underground which requires significant investment in hard infrastructure as well. Zaira Peres Salinas who participated in this panel representing the Mexico City government explained that the city must rely on a public-private partnership in order to be able to transfer from 4G to 5G in the future.
According to the panel, 5G will generate a 12 trillion-dollar industry by 2025, and that is why many cities are making an effort to evolve to this new platform. As discussed by the panel, cities seem to be eager to jump into the smart city trend with state-of-the-art gadgets powered by new wireless systems.
However, as Andree Corrêa explained, a well-studied open strategy is crucial to create trust within all sectors of society as it pertains to security, surveillance and other personal data being integrated into the network. Various applications of smart city technology are driven to make cities more resilient in the wake of natural or human-made disasters.
From rising sea levels, uncontrolled wildfires or urban violence, sensors are collecting information in real time enabling cities to react and plan for future challenges. In one of the last roundtable discussions of the Smart City Week event, Imperial Beach major Serge Dedina discussed how his municipality is working with Scripps Institution of Oceanography to monitor flooding in the city and using phone apps to warn citizens of flood areas and unprecedented ocean surges on its beaches.
In the City of Chula Vista, Oscar Romo, who is chair of the city’s sustainability commission explained that their challenges lie in creating safer environments for city neighborhoods and are currently deploying drones as first responders to emergencies. While security is a central issue for Romo and his staff, he also mentioned that the city is testing autonomous vehicles that will connect riders to the urban trolley system already in place.
According to the United Nation’s Global Urban Observatory (GUO) urban areas especially cities are now home to slightly more than half of the world’s seven billion people. The rapid urbanization of the planet puts forward challenges that may or may not be able to be addressed through smart city technology; these include refugee migration, cross border infrastructure, affordable housing and equal access to fundamental human rights.
Events as the one in San Diego tend to be aimed at technology experts, yet the overextension of smart city technology requires scrutiny from the urban and cultural geography academic sector. Not so long ago the cities in the US were interested in adopting sustainable city goals, smart growth conventions and the design of democratic public space where citizens had the right to assembly without being surveilled or monitor by big data. It is now imperative that architects, urbanist, and social scientist join the conversation and move forward a smart city agenda that is equitable and sustainable and eventually one that might be able to engender a new type of democracy for the 21st century.