The readers’ forum

‘Smart cities’ the smart approach


Major cities like Miami are facing unprecedented challenges that come with tens of thousands of residents migrating to cities every day. Tight resources, aging infrastructure, declining services, crime and pollution are taking a toll on many urban centers. About 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By the year 2050 that figure is expected to rise to 70 percent.

The good news is that we are on the cusp of a technological revolution that is enabling dramatic improvements in the quality of urban life. The term “smart cities” doesn’t do justice to where urban centers are headed. We are ready — today — to connect sensors, machines, devices, social networks and people via the “Internet of Things” to provide services and safeguard citizens in ways that could not be imagined until now.

The recent announcement of an alliance between technology leader Cisco and AGT International, a leader in advanced analytics and software, is proof. They are leveraging the Internet of Things to help cities deliver services better, improve operations, even anticipate natural and man-made threats and respond to them before they occur.

Imagine driving to the big game. Smart systems tell you the best route to the stadium, then automatically re-route you to avoid a traffic jam. You are guided to an open parking space and payment is processed effortlessly through your smart phone. After the game a crowd spills out to the street and you fear it may become unruly. But visual and acoustic sensors alert safety officials and calm is maintained. You are routed home safely and swiftly. Now imagine similar solutions for natural disasters, pollution control, power systems, even an unusual snowfall in Atlanta.

Of course, the principal challenge to adopting these new technologies, as always, is funding. By leveraging technology it is now possible to make more efficient use of existing infrastructure, diminishing the need to add capacity in the form of new roads or other facilities. The reduction in capital outlays will help relieve one of the most pressing problems faced by mayors today: debt.

The Internet of Things will also liberate massive amounts of new information that will empower citizens and help them engage more productively within their communities. Residents can have real-time access to what is going on their neighborhood, from the location of Suzie’s school bus to the time of the next trash pickup. And they can interact seamlessly with local officials, providing timely, informed feedback and surfacing issues that otherwise might simmer for months.

Recent history has seen several redefining moments in the urban experience: mass immigration, electrification, transportation and urban flight. We are now on the brink of the next transformational moment.. The Internet of Things will connect cities and the people in them to improve quality of life and make our cities truly sustainable.

There’s no time, or money, to waste.

Manny Diaz, former mayor, Miami

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