Are Smart Cities The Next Great Disruptor?

May 27, 2019

When the city of Columbus, Ohio, submitted its bid to become Amazon’s HQ2, city officials rolled out the usual fanfare: an assortment of tax incentives, promotion of its major educational institutions and real estate deals. But the hallmark of its proposal was a pitch to create a smart city by “embracing the reinvention of transportation to accelerate human progress.” The proposal noted that Columbus had just won the first-ever U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge, beating out 77 other communities with its proposal to become a model for connected cities of the future.

Columbus is not alone. Around the world, as increasingly mobile workforces prize connectivity, seamless transportation and sustainability as the determining criteria for quality-of-life, cities – large and small – have recognized that technology has become the great equalizer. From Boston to Bangkok, cities are unveiling plans to link fiber optics, light rail lines, automated vehicles and 5G networks in a seamless grid of always-on mobility.

An estimated two-thirds of cities globally are investing in smart city technology, with spending projected to reach $135 billion by 2021. Currently, the top applications being pursued include; smart utility meters, intelligent traffic signals, e-government applications, wi-fi kiosks and radio frequency identification sensors in pavement.

However, not everyone is on board with this movement. Privacy advocates recently launched a campaign to stop Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs smart city project in Toronto, citing a lack of transparency and concerns about how the company is collecting and using citizens’ personal data. As more smart city initiatives continue to gain momentum, they will raise significant questions about the role of private enterprise in government, the reliance on untested new technologies and the very definition of infrastructure spending. Sidewalk Labs released its master plan for the project this past Monday in an effort to address some of those concerns and promise to create “the most innovative district in the world.”

One example that shows both the real-world progress and the complex maze of regulatory and infrastructure-related issues that go along with these types of initiatives is the U.K.’s recently-announced effort to revolutionize the way people find parking spots with mobile apps that identify open spaces and allow you to pay for parking from your phone. Before the project can get off the ground, however, government and local authorities need to agree on a single standard for parking data. Only then will app developers be able to access the information on available parking spaces, permitted times and pricing that they need to begin the process of creating digital parking apps.

While the initiative seems completely logical, it introduces a debate on data privacy and level of collaboration between governments and private sector companies that can make some people skittish. As parking consultant Steve Vollar told the BBC, “There will be a lobby who will object to online payment details and knowledge of their movements.”

Read the article here: Are Smart Cities The Next Great Disruptor?