The Smarter City – What City Officials and Citizens Want and Need

By: Glenn Lurie
Jun 15, 2015 3:05 PM ET

The Smarter City – What City Officials and Citizens Want and Need

It’s easy to spot savvy city managers.

They are pursuing sustainable and innovative solutions that deliver economic, social and environmental benefits despite constrained budgets. These improvements can lead to cost savings, more jobs and increased opportunities for entrepreneurs, all of which keep cities thriving and attract one of the most highly sought after talent pools, millennials.

Consider that a majority of millennials are choosing to live in urban areas over the suburbs or rural communities. In fact, sixty-two percent indicate they prefer to live in the type of mixed-use communities found in urban centers, where they can be close to shops, restaurants and offices (Nielsen). Yet aging infrastructure and increased urbanization are creating issues that are driving city managers to recognize that something must be done - and done quickly – to help cities continue to be an attractive place to live and work.

Our vision is to see every city delivering more value to their residents through highly secure connected and innovative solutions and products. There are numerous ways to accomplish this goal, and while addressing these challenges will take time, many of the solutions are available to implement now.

Think about the iconic streetlight. While streetlights have been part of a city’s infrastructure since Greek and Roman times, their number has grown significantly in modern cities. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an estimated 26 million street lights in the United States consume as much electricity each year as 1.9 million households and generate gas emissions equal to that produced by 2.6 million cars. Certainly, changing the lights to energy efficient bulbs will reduce costs and energy usage.

But imagine the potential benefits if street lights were connected to one another and to organizations ready to interpret the data. They have the potential to:

  • Reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through increased efficiency
  • Ease traffic congestion by linking traffic signals and connected cars
  • Relay air quality data to air pollution agencies to allow them to make recommendations about public health
  • Enhance public safety by detecting the location of gunshots and other anomalies, which helps first responders get there faster
  • Increase citizen engagement through public Wi-Fi hotspots

Cities can make this all a reality today. And, if connected street lamps alone can do all of this, imagine the possibilities if other elements of the city are connected. As innovators and large and small companies work with cities, I have no doubt that new applications will be found and built that drive value and revenue for the cities and their citizens. The possibilities are endless and go beyond the things we are already working on, from connected trash cans that save trucks from coming out to pick up empty containers to parking meters that notify when spots are available to bus stops that communicate with riders and monitor demand to electric meters that help consumers monitor their usage.

Retrofitting today’s cities does not need to cost millions or be invasive. Sensors of all types and sizes are easily placed in everyday objects, like fire hydrants which notify the city about leaks or other problems, for example.

The return on investment is real. Seattle saved more than $1.2M annually through LED lampposts; Barcelona generated 47,000 jobs through implementing new smart cities efforts. The Las Vegas Water District is using smart technology to find and fix pipeline leaks through a solution provided by AT&T, IBM and Mueller Water Products. When you consider that some cities don’t know where up to 20% of the water goes due to leakage, water main bursts and antiquated infrastructure, this type of insight can deliver tangible and important benefits.

To achieve these benefits, a sound connected city strategy should start with crowd-sourced feedback from citizens and turnkey solutions that are supported by a seamless and highly secure network. AT&T is working hard to provide city officials and their citizens with a platform that will include a suite of integrated and highly secure communications solutions geared toward fostering environmental sustainability, economic growth, public safety, emerging technologies and citizen engagement.

I can’t wait to see what new solutions are thought of next. What are your ideas? Could your city be smarter?

This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn.