The Internet Of Things: Making Cities — And The Way They Use Technology — Smarter

Minerva Tantoco was named New York City’s first chief technology officer last year, charged with developing a coordinated citywide strategy on technology and innovation.

We’re likely to see more of that as cities around the country, and around the world, consider how best to use innovation and technology to operate as “smart cities.”

The work has major implications for energy use and sustainability, as cities take advantage of available, real-time data – from ‘smart’ phones, computers, traffic monitoring, and even weather patterns — to shift the way in which heating and cooling systems, landscaping, flow of people through cities, and other pieces of urban life are controlled.
Think about the Nest Thermostat, which “learns” what temperature you like, and when you’re home to need that heat or air conditioning. Systems across an urban area can use the same principles, considering vehicular patterns and individual habits to balance energy supply and demand. Electric grid operators already do that on a broad scale – they know demand will be higher on a hot August day than on a mild autumn evening.

But harnessing Open Innovation and the Internet of Things can promote sustainability on a much broader and deeper scale. The question is, how do you use all the available data to create a more environmentally sound future?

Gathering data from things isn’t a new idea – think wireless networks in the ’90s, networked sensors in the ’80s, even the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s satellites in the 1950s. Now, though, the Internet of Things includes all manner of what are called ‘information and communication technologies’, or ICT. That includes radio, television sets, computers, mobile phones and satellites, things that are already in use and that are evolving into more sophisticated models.

Technology has had real successes in changing city life — Medellin, Colombia, was chosen as City of the Year by the Urban Land Institute in 2013 in recognition of its turnaround from a symbol of the drug wars into a high-tech hub promoting civic engagement and innovation.

Private real estate industry has led the way in many cases, with innovative developments like Hudson Yards on the west side of Manhattan, using Big Data to optimize energy use, traffic patterns, temperature and pedestrian flows, among other services, within their urban development project.

The ability to limit the amount of energy and other resources we waste has real value. But the constant monitoring involved in collecting Big Data across urban areas also raises the specter of Big Brother, and those concerns shouldn’t be ignored.

Since 2005, my students and I have worked on the crossover between architecture and urban public policy, open innovation and data access, urban ecology and technological planning within cities.

We look at ways to generate smart cities, reducing carbon and moving to smart ways of digital mapping. We know Open Innovation and the ubiquity of networked electronics and other devices are affecting the world of architecture and design, construction and real estate development.

But too often, we have found, city planners, designers, policymakers and others start their work in a vacuum. If we are to scale up the successes of smart cities, to truly take advantage of so-called Open Innovation by engaging knowledge and ideas across a wide spectrum, this work should be done cooperatively.

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