Intelligent cities

Smart City Implementation: NYC and SF

SFParkIntelligent cities projects are not just an idealized concept anymore; they’re actually happening all around us, whether or not we realize it.  New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced about a week ago that NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority had partnered with the Federal Government to develop and implement a real-time traffic tracking system that enables their traffic operations office to make changes to signal timing right from their desktop computer.  In San Francisco, the USDOT’s Urban Partnership Program primarily funded the development and installation of a real-time parking supply and demand tracking system, which this week implemented its first round of demand-responsive parking price changes. The system in San Francisco has many implications for the future of transportation management.  The back-end data structure has been consciously designed to be flexible for future real-time data collection additions, like a feed of real-time boardings on Muni, the city’s public transit system.  In the words of project manager Jay Primus, “[Microsoft] Excel just won’t cut it anymore.”  And he’s right; leveraging relational database technology, which has actually existed for quite a while (the 1970s), is seen as a huge and innovative step for municipal government.  In one simple query, the city could understand how parking demand is related to public transit boardings.  Add real-time, automated automobile, bicycle and pedestrian volumes to the mix, and you’ve got a truly multi-modal management system.

New York’s system is offers the development of one piece of this as well.  They collect traffic volume information from microwave sensors, video cameras, and E-Z Pass readers throughout Manhattan.  They’re verifying the system’s data collection with GPS units installed in several taxicabs travelling throughout the city every day.

Without the financial backing of the federal government, it’s unlikely that either of these projects would have come to fruition.  This is one case where, gladly, money is power.

- Terra Curtis

 

Smart City Implementation: NYC and SF

SFParkIntelligent cities projects are not just an idealized concept anymore; they’re actually happening all around us, whether or not we realize it.  New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced about a week ago that NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority had partnered with the Federal Government to develop and implement a real-time traffic tracking system that enables their traffic operations office to make changes to signal timing right from their desktop computer.  In San Francisco, the USDOT’s Urban Partnership Program primarily funded the development and installation of a real-time parking supply and demand tracking system, which this week implemented its first round of demand-responsive parking price changes. The system in San Francisco has many implications for the future of transportation management.  The back-end data structure has been consciously designed to be flexible for future real-time data collection additions, like a feed of real-time boardings on Muni, the city’s public transit system.  In the words of project manager Jay Primus, “[Microsoft] Excel just won’t cut it anymore.”  And he’s right; leveraging relational database technology, which has actually existed for quite a while (the 1970s), is seen as a huge and innovative step for municipal government.  In one simple query, the city could understand how parking demand is related to public transit boardings.  Add real-time, automated automobile, bicycle and pedestrian volumes to the mix, and you’ve got a truly multi-modal management system.

New York’s system is offers the development of one piece of this as well.  They collect traffic volume information from microwave sensors, video cameras, and E-Z Pass readers throughout Manhattan.  They’re verifying the system’s data collection with GPS units installed in several taxicabs travelling throughout the city every day.

Without the financial backing of the federal government, it’s unlikely that either of these projects would have come to fruition.  This is one case where, gladly, money is power.

- Terra Curtis

 

Another Smart Cities Perspective

On Tuesday, we posted a blog highlighting TIME Magazine’s series on intelligent cities.  In large part, this series promotes the idea by highlighting examples of its success and potential.  This post, found on the Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy blog, questions the movement highlighted by TIME and the National Building Museum’s Intelligent Cities Forum, suggesting that it’s merely a re-packaging of old ideas in new rhetoric. The blogger also highlights both the distinction between and the relationship among “intelligent cities” and “smart growth cities.”  Smart growth cities do not inherently rely on information technology, however to the extent that decision-makers would have more comprehensive, up-to-the-minute data available to them, our cities will grow smarter.

There are two main points made in the conclusion of the article: that all this talk about opportunity and new paradigms will mean nothing if implementation of the ideas never comes true (e.g. “having data should not be mistaken for taking action.”); and that democratization of the decision-making process is a key component of implementation.

TIME’s series will help educate the public about these new challenges and opportunities.  Traditional means of public outreach could do the same in conjunction with some of the new technologies themselves (e.g. MindMixer; GoodZuma).  The implementation of intelligent cities hinges more so than ever before on the public’s knowledge and support – in many cases, it is their input and participation that not only enables, but fully defines the instantiation of intelligent and smartly-grown cities.

- Terra Curtis

 

 

TIME Magazine on Intelligent Cities

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/18928155 w=400&h=225]

Intelligent Cities: Bill Saporito from National Building Museum on Vimeo.

TIME Magazine recently has been running a series focusing on intelligent cities, a topic we've covered several times here on The Global Mobility Report.  As a global news source with 25 million international readers, TIME attempts to capture breaking news but also large trends in culture and ways of life around the globe.  Therefore, the focus on intelligent cities serves as an indicator of the topic's growing audience and appeal.

The issue's articles focus a lot on particular examples -- places where elements of intelligent cities have already been implemented.  These places include the efficient and affordable transportation system of CuritibaStockholm's smart grid, and Kansas City as a laboratory for Google-provided high speed internet.  Bill Saporito, TIME's assistant managing editor (see video), also highlights some of the higher-level thoughts about intelligent cities: that they will be places rich in information, where all people have access to this information, and where information is separated from raw data systematically, avoiding the inefficiencies of "noise".

One of the most interesting things Saporito mentioned in the interview was his idea of why intelligent cities are so important: they provide the ability to plan ahead.  I hadn't thought of it in this way before, but what intelligent cities will do, if successful, is provide information to citizens (e.g. when is the next bus coming, when my water bill will reach $50 this month, how quickly will I burn through this tank of gas) that enables them to change their current behavior based on the future.  Intelligent cities will sort of institutionalize behavior change -- a subject policy makers, planners, elected officials and many others spend lifetimes trying to influence.

TIME has done a nice job aggregating the information on and examples of intelligent cities and I recommend checking it out.

- Terra Curtis

On Location: APA 2011, Boston

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf “Revolutions in science are preceded by revolutions in measurement.” – Benjamin de la Pena

Technology Infrastructure and Planning Session

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve spent the last few days in Boston at the American Planning Association’s annual conference.  I wanted to write one post focused on a session I attended on Monday, entitled Technology Infrastructure and Planning.

With speakers from IBM, CISCO, and the Rockefeller Foundation, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, given that this is a planning conference.  However, as readers of this blog will know, I am very interested in the nexus of urban planning and technology, and to my pleasant surprise, this session did not disappoint.  It was probably the most thought-provoking session I attended all weekend.  Readers may want to refer to a previous blog post on “corporate planning” to learn about the planning-related initiatives of CISCO, IBM, and others. Gordon Feller of CISCO emphasized that as technology progresses and infiltrates city management further and further, we will experience a profound shift in the role of planners specifically and of government in general.  All of the speakers mentioned the concept of ERP – enterprise resource planning.  These are technology systems currently in place and used heavily by large corporations to manage and track their operations.  The speakers posited that soon we will have ERP for cities (both IBM and CISCO are currently working on it).

The implication of this is that planners will need to be extremely data savvy.  In the near term, planners could have access to extremely rich and structured data in real-time – strong evidence to defend or refute particular stakeholders’ beliefs.  In the long term, the possibilities are both amazing and frightening.  There will be a need for stronger public-private partnerships, with private companies providing and constructing the physical infrastructure (fiber optic cables, monitoring devices, etc.) and the public sector managing the data and leveraging it for decision making in ways we have yet to imagine.

That said, several early examples already do exist.  CISCO is actually constructing its own smart city in Korea – Songdo.  This is similar to Masdar City, which we previously covered.  Barcelona has designated a sector of the city as an innovation lab (22@Barcelona), where smart city concepts are tested in real time.  In 2005, Bill Clinton challenged cities to minimize their carbon footprint by making planning an integral aspect of the solution.  CISCO conducted pilots in three worldwide cities as part of its associated Connected Urban Development program: Seoul, Amsterdam, and San Francisco.  Urban Ecomap was one of the products of that program.  Blaise Aguera of Microsoft Bing demonstrates in this TEDx talk how his company is producing augmented reality maps, which have many applications for planning including data collection, community engagement, and visualization.

John Tolva, the speaker from IBM, took a reverse approach and highlighted examples of how technologists could learn from the experiences of planners and the built environment.  He emphasized a few key learnings: throughput is not connectivity; it’s easy to confuse the use of a system with the need for a system; data alone is not sufficient for problem solving, but combined with an involved community it just may be.

Benjamin de la Pena of the Rockefeller Foundation also gave an extremely insightful presentation, closing out with some cautionary notes.  I will name a few.  The reliance on data and technology may undermine our own best interests – it can be systematically exclusionary as was exemplified as far back as Athens, Greece in its democratization process.  Some of our most ambitious feats have also turned out to be great failures on certain dimensions – he cited our highway system as connecting our country but dividing our neighborhoods.  Red lining was also data driven, hardly something to be proud of.  Data literacy and transparency will be of the utmost importance: citizens must be able to trust that city managers have their best interest in mind, providing information that is not purposefully hiding misleading but rather empowering.

As a graduate student in planning, I’ll be paying heightened attention to the progress in technology infrastructure in cities and the public-private relationships that will result.  It has great implications for my, and our, future.

-Terra Curtis

Further resources:

 

On Location: APA 2011, Boston

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf “Revolutions in science are preceded by revolutions in measurement.” – Benjamin de la Pena

Technology Infrastructure and Planning Session

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve spent the last few days in Boston at the American Planning Association’s annual conference.  I wanted to write one post focused on a session I attended on Monday, entitled Technology Infrastructure and Planning.

With speakers from IBM, CISCO, and the Rockefeller Foundation, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, given that this is a planning conference.  However, as readers of this blog will know, I am very interested in the nexus of urban planning and technology, and to my pleasant surprise, this session did not disappoint.  It was probably the most thought-provoking session I attended all weekend.  Readers may want to refer to a previous blog post on “corporate planning” to learn about the planning-related initiatives of CISCO, IBM, and others. Gordon Feller of CISCO emphasized that as technology progresses and infiltrates city management further and further, we will experience a profound shift in the role of planners specifically and of government in general.  All of the speakers mentioned the concept of ERP – enterprise resource planning.  These are technology systems currently in place and used heavily by large corporations to manage and track their operations.  The speakers posited that soon we will have ERP for cities (both IBM and CISCO are currently working on it).

The implication of this is that planners will need to be extremely data savvy.  In the near term, planners could have access to extremely rich and structured data in real-time – strong evidence to defend or refute particular stakeholders’ beliefs.  In the long term, the possibilities are both amazing and frightening.  There will be a need for stronger public-private partnerships, with private companies providing and constructing the physical infrastructure (fiber optic cables, monitoring devices, etc.) and the public sector managing the data and leveraging it for decision making in ways we have yet to imagine.

That said, several early examples already do exist.  CISCO is actually constructing its own smart city in Korea – Songdo.  This is similar to Masdar City, which we previously covered.  Barcelona has designated a sector of the city as an innovation lab (22@Barcelona), where smart city concepts are tested in real time.  In 2005, Bill Clinton challenged cities to minimize their carbon footprint by making planning an integral aspect of the solution.  CISCO conducted pilots in three worldwide cities as part of its associated Connected Urban Development program: Seoul, Amsterdam, and San Francisco.  Urban Ecomap was one of the products of that program.  Blaise Aguera of Microsoft Bing demonstrates in this TEDx talk how his company is producing augmented reality maps, which have many applications for planning including data collection, community engagement, and visualization.

John Tolva, the speaker from IBM, took a reverse approach and highlighted examples of how technologists could learn from the experiences of planners and the built environment.  He emphasized a few key learnings: throughput is not connectivity; it’s easy to confuse the use of a system with the need for a system; data alone is not sufficient for problem solving, but combined with an involved community it just may be.

Benjamin de la Pena of the Rockefeller Foundation also gave an extremely insightful presentation, closing out with some cautionary notes.  I will name a few.  The reliance on data and technology may undermine our own best interests – it can be systematically exclusionary as was exemplified as far back as Athens, Greece in its democratization process.  Some of our most ambitious feats have also turned out to be great failures on certain dimensions – he cited our highway system as connecting our country but dividing our neighborhoods.  Red lining was also data driven, hardly something to be proud of.  Data literacy and transparency will be of the utmost importance: citizens must be able to trust that city managers have their best interest in mind, providing information that is not purposefully hiding misleading but rather empowering.

As a graduate student in planning, I’ll be paying heightened attention to the progress in technology infrastructure in cities and the public-private relationships that will result.  It has great implications for my, and our, future.

-Terra Curtis

Further resources:

 

National Building Museum: Intelligent Cities Initiative

[vimeo 15596951 w=400 h=225]

Intelligent Cities from National Building Museum on Vimeo.

Intelligent Cities, an initiative of the National Building Museum, supported by its parters TIME and IBM and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, explores the intersection of information technology and urban design to understand where we are, where we want to be, and how to get there.” I came across this initiative through a classmate who uses our department’s listserv, perhaps more than any other, to spread information about urban planning and tangential topics.  The project will gather information from the public and study city-related data and information to establish three basic conclusions: ‘how have we done things in the past?’; ‘what are we doing now?’; and, ‘how can new technology help us make better decisions in the future?’

Their basic mantra is that each of us, individually, makes cities intelligent.  This philosophy is highlighted through a series of polls available through the project’s website, which essentially test citizens’ knowledge of their community.  I took the most recent poll, dealing with water systems, and must admit that had I not recently toured my town’s water treatment plant with some classmates, I would have known very little about this aspect of my community.

It will be interesting to follow this project over time.  Not only will visitors to the National Building Museum in Washington, DC benefit from the information they gather.  If the initiative is a success, it will truly leverage social media and information technology to spread information about social media and information technology to others – what a concept.

-Terra Curtis