Whole New Meaning For ‘Smart City’

on August 09, 2011 at 10:10 AM

What if technology could tell you things you never knew?

IBM’s newest System Dynamics for Smarter Cities will use digital analytics software to predict the long-term outcomes of government policies and assess potential cascading and unexpected impacts. Portland city Mayor Sam Adams was the first to jump on the opportunity and will begin using the data for policy making, he announced to the city on Monday.

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“Municipal government is still very much a world of silos,” IBM VP of Strategy for Smarter Cities Michael Littlejohn said in a company statement. “The various departments–transportation, education,, public works, and so forth–often have very little interaction with each other, dramatically increasing the possibility that an action in one area of government will have an unexpected affect on another area.”

The unintended consequences of policy, Littlejohn said, are the ones the web-based SmarterCities program hopes to help policymakers avoid. It links data pieces that may have otherwise seemed totally unrelated in a dynamic engine built with more than 3,000 equations that use data IBM has collected from various cities over the past few decades.

“Any action has implications that touch multiple domains,” IBM Global Business Services Industry Lead on Smarter Government, Transportation and Public Safety, Naveen Lamba, told AOL Energy. “This model tries to capture that interconnection, interdependence between domains.”

These graphs for example, from a screenshot of the computer software, show the surprising correlation between healthy citizens and job creation.

The city of Portland was in the midst of writing its new strategic Portland Plan, when it was approached by IBM with the new data modeling system, Chief Planner at the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Joe Zehnder told Breaking Energy.

The city found that it had 18 agencies, each with its own needs and objectives, and that the dynamic data system could help the city integrate those various agencies’ plans, Zehnder said.

The city hopes to use the modeling system as a strategic thinking tool, he said, as part of policy making. The data is not necessarily 100% accurate but instead captures larger implications and trends, Lamba said.

Some of these trends might include for example, the impacts of a department of transportation decision to cut costs by limiting free rides for students. The system would be able to capture that, at the same time, a city’s department of education is trying to increase transportation options for students and would have incentives to keep those rides in place. Unintended consequences might include more emissions from increased car use, congestion on roads and increased deployment of police officers on the streets, according to Lamba.

Cities, he said, are not managed today in the best possible way. There is a lack of recognition, according to him, that a city is a collection of interconnected systems.

For more on the evolving relationship between cities and energy, see the stories from Breaking Energy’s special urban energy series.

“Each domain are complex systems by themselves,” Lamba said, ” but the way things actually happen, all these systems interact with each other and the system is really a system of systems.”

In terms of energy use, the computer data system would help policymakers see unlikely impacts of energy policy and management.

“Where there is an electricity outage, utilizes in the domain are affected but you have issues of public health, issues of public safety,” Lama said, so it is important for municipal computer systems to anticipate and lay out all the implications for decision-makers.

The software may become increasingly popular as cities begin to roll-out forward looking plans for the coming decades, Lamba said. Individual models for unique cases can be build on the software to analyze specific situations. Eventually, the program might be available for national use, he said.

For more from Portland’s Mayor Adams, see his writing on how cities can learn from each other on Breaking Energy.