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Runners and marathon lovers: What you should know about Smart Cities

As tens of thousands of marathon runners and hundreds of thousands of fans from all over the world converge on the city of Paris, it prompts us to reflect on the state of our major cities and what the future holds from a sustainability perspective. Over the next 40 years, 70% of the planet will be living in cities. That means today’s younger generation will see the global urban population double within their lifetime.

Think about the cities you’ve visited lately.  Or, if you’re a city dweller, what can you say about your day-to-day quality of life?  Some common threads you hear from both visitors and residents are:  “too many people” and “too much congestion” or “too much pollution”. In fact, most cities are strapped for resources. Their infrastructure is outdated or overwhelmed.  Many cities are only beginning to tackle the issue of energy efficiency.

city at night

When it comes to cities, two main issues bubble up: efficiency and livability. An efficient city leverages technologies such as infrastructure software and smart metering to integrate systems that traditionally operate as stand-alone silos. The tools to integrate are available today and the more efficient these systems are, the more attractive the city becomes as a place to live and work. The more livable it is, the better it’s able to compete for jobs, investment, and cultural enrichment. A city that’s efficient and livable—and therefore sustainable—is a Smart City.

How to get started: 5 practical steps

Smart cities start with smart systems. Electric grids, gas and water distribution systems, wastewater treatment, public and private transportation systems, commercial buildings, hospitals, private homes: these are the backbone of a city’s infrastructure.

A proven 5-step methodology to improving a city’s critical infrastructure combines a bottom-up, systems-centric approach with top-down, data-driven actionable intelligence. Let’s look at these 5 steps.

Step 1. Set the vision

A smart city cannot be developed by decree or by a single entity. All stakeholders—municipal governments, the private sector, and individual citizens—need to be involved to develop a shared vision. The process must be inclusive and participatory, with everyone’s buy-in – a point I make in a previous blog on energy prosperity.

Step 2. Bring in the right technology

The sheer volume of available solutions today is overwhelming. So where do you start? First, cities must prioritize their pain points, identifying which ones need immediate attention. Then an energy management partner should be brought in to assess requirements and make recommendations based on those requirements.

Step 3. Integrate the systems

Individual systems must be architected to capture and share data. Then that data must be analyzed to improve system performance. Gathering system data from the bottom up (from smart meters, for example), and then harnessing it for analysis from the top down (via software dashboards), enables cities to make informed decisions based on accurate data.

Step 4. Leverage innovative business models

Municipalities are understandably concerned about how to pay for their Smart City vision. Innovative business models allow cities to fund improvements without making large up-front cash outlays. An interesting example is Chicago’s “Retrofit Chicago” Fund which will invest in energy-saving retrofits and other projects at public buildings. In many cases, the debt will be paid off through cost savings.

Step 5. Drive collaboration

Cities must insist that technology and energy management partners work in a collaborative manner to build the most valuable long-term solutions.

Cities are as diverse as the runners who participate in the Paris 2013 marathon. Each city faces its own unique set of challenges. Just as runners deploy different strategies for competing in the race, there is no “one size fits all” blueprint for cities. But combining a bottom-up, system-centric approach with top-down, data-driven actionable intelligence can create more efficient, more livable, more sustainable Smart Cities.

Do you think you’re living in a smart city?

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  • So how do you convince people in your city that investing in making a Smart City will pay off in the long run?

  • Nick Blandford

    10 years ago

    Hi Lance – Thanks for your comment and great question. Each city is unique and each one of a city’s inhabitants is different. I believe that engagement, education and empowerment is extremely important when dealing with large and diverse groups of people – everyone comes from a different background and everyone has their own vision of where they want to go. I also think that the majority of the population is unaware of what a smart city is which is why education is extremely important – all stakeholder groups (government, corporate, NGO, local, etc) need to work together to develop proper communication & education tools to help illustrate the shared vision of where the city wants to move towards.

    Many people want a healthy & safe city where they can raise their families – which are components of a smart city. People also want efficient and effective ways of moving around their city which is where well-thought out transportation planning and deployment comes in (smart city aspects). And I bet it would be pretty hard to find someone who wouldn’t want to pay less on their energy bills – which is where smart buildings and effective energy management can help out.

    Overall though, I feel that the way in which we communicate to others in society and our cities is the aspect where we can gain advocates for a smart city future. Each individual needs to understand and feel the ‘win’ for them; regardless if they want to get to and from work quicker, or whether they want a safe neighborhood for their children – all these aspects which make cities better living environments plays into what a Smart City is. Listening to people and then having a dialogue with them around what their priorities are, while integrating flavors of how a Smart City helps to achieve their wants, is how to create more Smart City advocates.

  • Dear Nick,
    Thank you for the interesting comment. We are going to launch an energy challenge where we engage households to enhance their energy efficiency in Switzerland. Please take a look at this clip and let me know in case you are keen to team up with Visionarity –
    Are you going to be at the Paris Marathon in April?
    Best regards,

    • Nick Blandford

      8 years ago

      Hi Phil – Thanks for the note. I checked out your video and it looks like you and the Visionarity team are up to some good things. Feel free to add me on Linkedin if you would like to chat further. Unfortunately I won’t be at the Paris Marathon this year. I’m currently sticking to 10km runs but have thought about potentially running another full marathon in the future.

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