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 Their infrastructure is outdated or overwhelmed.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.
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?