In an era of aging infrastructure — where cities across the country are plodding along with long-outdated water lines, traffic signals, transportation systems and you-name-it — the upcoming Smart Cities Week conference focuses on the need for updated “smart infrastructure.”
“All the experts agree that our infrastructure is old, needing funding and deteriorating quickly,” said Philip Bane, managing director of the Smart Cities Council, a global organization promoting “smart cities” technology. The Smart Cities Council is the lead organizer behind the Smart Cities Week conference
, that runs Oct. 3-5 in Washington, D.C.
“We have not spent the money to maintain our infrastructure,” Bane added via email. “Examples range from the Metro in Washington, D.C., to water containment in Houston.”
Jeff Stovall, chief information officer for Charlotte, N.C., agreed.
“We have an aging infrastructure already. And when we start talking about adding new infrastructure as it relates to smart cities, then it becomes even more compounded, because effectively, internal to our own organization, we’re competing for dollars for the replacement of existing aging physical infrastructure — roads, bridges, sewers,” said Stovall, who was a panelists at one of the plenary sessions, Clearing Roadblocks to Smart Infrastructure. “Those types of infrastructure compete for the very same dollars within our budget. So when we start talking about ‘smart infrastructure,’ we have to think about both of those emphases."
“How do we deal with the crumbling physical infrastructure as well as building new infrastructure that allows us to have new data-gathering capabilities?” he added.
Meanwhile, other countries in Western Europe — as well as developing areas like India — have moved well past the United States when in deploying the kinds of connected technology that collect and analyze data for both the improved performance of infrasture systems, as well as more effiecent operations at cheaper costs, said Bane.
“The U.S. is behind Europe in terms of deploying sensors and data integration and analytics,” said Bane. "Cities such as Singapore and Dubai are even further ahead of Europe. Absent investment, U.S. cities will lose their competitive edge in job and wealth creation.”
The conference, which includes about 1,500 registered delegates, is taking several tracks: connected and autonomous vehicles; smart infrastructure; networked cities; built environment; investing for change; climate resilience; happiness as a city indicator; and compassionate cities. It includes speakers from wide swaths of the private and public sectors.
When thinking about a smart city strategy, what’s important for cities to map out, said Stovall, is a “real clear and well-defined vision for what it means to be ‘smart’ in your municipality.” Too often, cities use the word “smart” as a colloquialism for digital or improving the use of data, he added.
“But I think the fundamental building block in dealing with smart communities, and trying to build smart cities, is really to have a very clearly and well-defined vision,” Stovall explained. “That’s actually probably the biggest stumbling block for many municipalities — even our own — trying to determine, ‘what do we want to be smart about.’”