Data, data, sensors, sensors, everywhere!
After attending back to back smart city conferences—VERGE (Where Technology Meets Sustainability) and Smart Cities Week (every smart technology under the sun)—I have to say that everyone recognizes the enormous potential to do good with Big Data and Sensors. But how do we tap into that potential?
There were numerous stories of the challenges of city officials attempting to communicate and propagate smart city strategies. At Smart Cities Week, the Chief Operating Officer of San Diego noted that the current imperatives driving their smart city efforts are four issues: aging infrastructure, climate change, security, and the siloed nature of government. The development of their smart city strategy attempts to overcome all four issues with a systemic approach to being “smart” about smart city technologies.
Communications, engagement, and messaging are essential. Oftentimes for cities, it is simply reframing a project that has a potential data aspect, so that a colleague then understands the new initiative as a “smart” city initiative, much in the same way sustainability professionals have learned to explain how if a project saves water or energy, it can be categorized as a sustainability project. A smart technology vendor found that citizen engagement and awareness is perhaps more important than the specific features of the new data gadget. If someone understands the intended benefits of the camera on the light pole before it is installed they are much more likely accept it than if they are engaged as an afterthought. People who see a camera being installed without having been engaged in the decision often complain, yet smart street lights and cameras are often correlated to reduced crime.
To date, the buzz around smart city technologies is related to ubiquitous sensors, meaning there is a steep learning curve for cities to manage the way they collect, analyze and communicate all the data coming in the new smart city future. How to store the data is another hot topic. Cities will need to upgrade rules around data archives and policies around data sharing if they are going to accommodate new data analytics.
What if data about energy or water could actually save energy and water? Well it can. And it does. And that, my friends, is why a smart city matters to me. If you can transform the way power plants are designed to fuel our every need, or if you can change where the energy comes from by a simple exchange of information between distributed energy resources– wouldn’t this be preferred over firing up some more coal or natural gas into the atmosphere?
Smart city technologies are pushing cities to reinvent processes and systems to truly become holistic (integrated whole systems), moving away from the one-off solutions and toward a world where we make better decisions based on sound data and where city departments integrate their capital projects through smart and sustainable city frameworks. “Learn to love big brother” was a common joke at Smart Cities Week, because sensors are here, they are everywhere, and it is important to place them intentionally with community buy-in and to communicate the data collected by them in a meaningful and empowering way.
At Verge I was inspired by the connection of clean energy/green buildings data being connected to reduced greenhouse gases, improved air quality and therefore health, well-being, and productivity. I was so inspired I wrote this poem:
Where Data demanded
Where Data Flows
Healthier Choices grows
Design Build and then
Take the pulse – how it goes?
Maybe like with babies, have a well baby check.
Operations team – Hey, what’s the specs?
And what if doctors told you about RE and EE
And what if the bank said hey – here’s the money!
Change your carbon and your attitude
And your embodied energy dude.
Electrify your home and your life.
Thank you Verge for the light.