The term Smart Cities has become a bit of a buzz phrase. However, the idea of recreating the urban form has been around for thousands of years.  According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek by Monte Reel. “ it started with Hippodamus, the man Aristotle claimed was the father of urban planning (That’s the phrase the article used.  I’m not sure Aristotle did.). When the Persians destroyed his hometown of Miletus, Hippodamus discovered a bright side to catastrophe: The attackers had erased all the regrettable improvisations that, over the centuries, had made a mess of the place. Tasked with rebuilding, he seized his chance to impose order upon chaos. He apparently used a grid to plan the streets.

Notably, Rotterdam’s central city was so badly damaged by bombing in World War II that they wanted to totally replan it as a new modern city.  When they realized that the underground water and sewer system would have to be totally reconstructed they changed their minds.

“Smart Cities’ in general do not, generally, start from scratch, although there are some proposals to do so in the Mideast and Asia. There’s no one easy definition because cities have different priorities. It could be vehicular and pedestrian traffic, street lighting, the electric grid, energy efficient buildings, public water system, crime detection, flood control or garbage collection.  Each of these requires a different type of data gathering, analysis and response.

Who are the decision makers?

Local governments are, for the most part, the driving force behind the efforts and decisions that will make a city smart. Forbes Magazine, in an August 1, 2018 article recommends ten issues including those mentioned above and broadband for all, sustainable energy, affordability, safety, and, most important, organizations without silos and a clear agreed-upon set of priorities.

Later in this blog, I’ll describe what happens when the planning is left to private enterprise.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

The first thing people usually think of about a Smart City is how to get around efficiently.  The concept of MaaS is showing up in some European and Middle Eastern cities

It takes all of the existing and future transportation providers, such as taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, light rail, streetcars, shuttle buses, shared taxis, bicycles, autonomous vehicles (AV) and the user and puts them together in one smartphone app for access.  Helsinki has started this program in 2016 in an urban area for public transit, taxis, car-hailing and rental bicycles

However, the future of AVs may be changing.  According to a Wall Street Journal article dated 01/17/19 by Tim Higgins” Driverless Cars Tap the Brakes After Years of Hype”. He writes that the Uber fatality has given the industry a pause. The hype from last year’s Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show is gone. “Karl Iagnemma, president of Aptiv’s autonomous mobility that’s powering Lytft’s shuttles at the show, said What was underappreciated by the industry is how long and how difficult it would be to industrialize the technology. Industry wide that recognition has dawned.”

He writes “Autonomous-vehicle developers are generally struggling with a multitude of basic scenarios, from making unprotected left-hand turns to judging whether an idling car is double-parked. Often these developers deal with the robot’s confusion by having the vehicles slow down or stop, which can then create more confusion as other drivers grow impatient and illegally pass.”

Gill Pratt, head of Toyota Research Institute, which is developing autonomous technology believes it will take decades for driverless cars to replace significantly human drivers on roadways, is betting that low-speed robot shuttles and taxis are the first ways the technology will be deployed.

Private cars and public transportation

The general thinking is that public transportation is good, but we need to improve private car traffic control. There are some examples of exactly opposite trends.  Smart Cities World reports that, according to a study by the UK Royal Automobile Club (the term “Royal means somehow approved by the Monarch), residents have increased their reliance on private cars by 6 percent between 2016 and 2017.  The most frequent reason given is the poor condition of public transportation.

Is there enough money to improve public transportation and create smart systems to address private cars? Most discussions about Smart City programs say that the public has to be involved in their planning and execution.

Internet of Things Networks

Smart cities place large coverage demands on networks. As people and businesses grow increasingly connected to each other and technology through the IoT, service providers need to invest wisely in technology which not only allows for a better experience for all subscribers but also ensures a robust communications network is in place for the emergency services.

Conventional cellular networks are not robust enough to guarantee a wireless IoT system. A July 23, 2018 information Age article explains a alternative technology. “Intelligent digital distributed antenna systems (idDAS), based on the C-RAN (Cloud-radio access network) approach, is now emerging as the critical network architecture for supporting the various connectivity needs of smart cities. Digital DAS offers a cost-effective and energy-efficient method of delivering maximum coverage and capacity to almost any environment.

 Smart  Street Lighting

This is one area that is simple enough that it should be an early adoption choice. LED lighting is replacing the yellow high- pressure sodium street lights for city street around the country.  Light quality and energy efficiency are the primary reasons for replacement. Also, the fixtures’ characteristics will allow them to connect to the Internet of Things (IoT). Lamp failure will be centrally monitored to expedite a replacement.  There is some thought that the ubiquitous nature of street lighting will help monitor air quality and the light quality may be a deterrent to crime.

Continuing on about smart street lighting, Boston installed and Los Angeles plans to install real-time gunfire detection with their new  LED street lighting system.

Security

The estimates vary, but it is safe to say that billions of detectors and other connected components will be in thousands of networks for Smart Cities. No technology has come forward as being perfectly hackproof, and with so many targets they’ll be plenty of dark forces looking to create havoc or worse.

In an article on GT.com in April/May 2018,  Dan Lohrmann writes “Governments rely on constant connectivity to volumes of data from stationary and moving sensors. This data becomes useful information using data analytics to provide better overall business value, effective customer service and better quality of life.” Microsoft has prepared a paper outlining seven critical items to consider for security.

Cities big and small are looking for ways to become smart. Unfortunately, they are likely to have to competitively bid the systems providers who can result in an unqualified “lowest bid.”  As Lohmann points out in his article, there are major companies who can provide technical guidance like  Deloitte, Cisco, IBM, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Microsoft and others.  These can provide project scopes that will ensure that the elements of the network can talk to each other.

On the other hand whom do you trust?

Smart cities historically are often an effort  of private enterprise. The impulse to monetize the data collected, the business model for the Internet, challenges the privacy of the public that hopes to benefit from it.

Waterfront Toronto, a development agency founded by the Canadian government, partnered with the Google’ parent company Alphabet in October 2017 to create a futuristic neighborhood on the waterfront. Sidewalk Labs is Google’s sister company, planned to fill the plot with driverless shuttle buses, garbage-toting robots, and other gadgets to show how emerging technologies can improve city life. Privacy advocates have voiced concern about private companies handling of private digital information gathered as residents are tracked by sensors embedded in such infrastructure as traffic lights, thermostats and garbage-disposal units.

Some members of the agency have resigned because of Sidewalk Lab’s vague responses to their questions. When one member resigned noted that no answers were forthcoming about issues such as the privacy rights of residents if they didn’t agree to share data. “Would you segregate them and tell them ’You can’t live here? A city council member representing the City’s downtown area said Sidewalk officials met with her but offered little meaningful information. “I left the meeting with more questions,” she said.

Besides the question of private’s goals for creating a smart city the data crunching done by algorithms can create unintended consequences such as describes in the mathematician Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destrction.  Vitor Pereira: Co-Founder & Director of ZOOM Smart Cities posted “Why we need a Hippocratic Oath for algorithms and AI” on September 8, 2018 on the website Smart Cities World.  It is a caution about relying on computer, in which he argues that we should avoid becoming dependeint on machines and processes that are ” devoid of ethical, moral, or philosophical principles.”  Both big and small cities are looking at what being “smart” can do to improve their environment, economy and quality of life. What’s needed is public involvement and municipal thoughtfulness to succeed.