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Being “Smart” – It’s more than Technology

Astrid posted on Parknews.biz an article about the City of Columbus. Access it here. Seems the capital of the Buckeye State is using funds received from the Feds to smarten up its Connected Vehicle Environment. It’s placing sensors on roads that are most accident prone, connecting 1800 private, freight, and emergency vehicles, and installing 118 roadside units at key intersections. All that data will flow back to central and hopefully, amongst other things, reduce travel times up to 30% by 2020.

The article quotes heavily from a Mckensey Global report on the direction smart cities are taking. It notes that not only rich, dense cities like Singapore and Dubai are becoming smart, but smaller cities like Columbus are also jumping on the smart bandwagon. It does, however, express some concerns:

As data scientists and anyone who’s worked in analytics knows, though, ‘smart’ technology can only be as smart as the people and organizations using it. “Using technology to transform urban environments in a more meaningful way will require new thinking about governance. Technology is only as effective as the entity that puts it to work,” wrote the authors of McKinsey’s report. “City government has a dual role to play. It has to execute some intelligent solutions on its own, and it has to orchestrate and enable the evolution of a broader ecosystem [of public and private partners].”

Political bodies have a tendency to favor the “flavor of the moment.” In this case, if it has ‘smart’ attached, it will get funded. However to really affect our urban environment, these programs must be long term and have commitment. Will cities like Columbus be able to stay the course, particularly when Federal funding runs out? Will a new mayor and new administration in five years have a different “flavor” to attract its focus.

It has happened before. Can you say SFPark? You know, that Federally funded smart parking program touted world wide by Bagdad by the Bay and now just a memory in academic’s minds. San Francisco spent upwards of $30 million of Federal Grant Money and when the money ran out, it became a legend in the parking world view.

Will Columbus and cities like it go down the same path?

JVH

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