Leaders Opting For Dual Paths To Smart City Development

on June 02, 2016 at 10:00 AM

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Adoption of smart city initiatives appears to be dividing most city governments into two camps – those that opt for incremental add-on or pilot programs, and those that pursue some form of root-level master planning. There are advantages and disadvantages to each course.

According to the 2016 Black & Veatch Strategic Directions: Smart City/Smart Utility report, some communities with leaner budgets – but deep interest in smart infrastructure efficiencies – are choosing add-on systems. These often include projects such as street lights, digital kiosks or electric vehicle charging stations.

Other communities are pursuing a broad, years-long path with master planning, which envisions a thorough rethinking of how a city uses its energy, water, communication and transportation systems. As governments think about where they would spend their smart city dollars, much of that consideration centers on the important building blocks of a smart city.

Advantages to Pilot Programs

Single-point solutions carry some advantages for cities not yet willing to take the full plunge via master planning. Pilot programs of individual infrastructure pieces can often act as a guide to measuring how well a smart city initiative will scale. They also offer faster results.

Street light initiatives, for instance, are growing in popularity in larger cities because of their ability to bring relatively quick investment returns. Networked LED lights can provide not only energy savings but information about outages or other anomalies. Lights can be remotely dimmed to reduce burn, or managed by smart devices that detect traffic patterns to make sure lights are used effectively.

“Lighting is also seen as a viable platform on which to build future sensor and communications networks,” said Mike Bossom, Solutions Lead for Black & Veatch’s Smart Integrated Infrastructure service line. “Lights can be connected, and through that same network infrastructure, they can communicate with video cameras, parking sensors and environmental sensors.”

Ad-funded, interactive digital kiosks offer another example of a single-point, revenue-generating addition. The kiosks can keep citizens informed about events, emergency operations and local businesses.

But there are disadvantages to isolated upgrades.

“Cities need to ask, ‘Will pilot programs sync well with other upgraded systems down the road?’ One-off upgrades run the risk of duplicated costs that would likely be eliminated as part of a broader approach that accounts for how all systems will mesh,” Bossom said.

Implementing a True Master Plan

Gary Hawkins, Solutions Lead for Black & Veatch’s Smart Integrated Infrastructure service line, said that master planning should be thought of as a three-phase approach: planning, design and implementation.

“The initial planning phase identifies the technology options and the solutions available,” Hawkins said. “It prioritizes each item within the city’s current priorities and long-term vision, and most importantly, aligns it to the city’s budget, organization and process capabilities.”

The result, he said, is a city master plan that will be used to guide all remaining work.

The design process puts specific plans around the physical infrastructure, hardware and software required to make the city’s plan a reality. The last stage – final implementation – includes installation, commissioning and optimization of the network that allows the smart city vision to come to life.

“Master planning offers a more holistic approach, and communities are increasingly pondering that strategy in their bids to become more efficient, green and resilient,” Hawkins said.

The City of Chula Vista, California, has a long-term, citywide vision and recently embarked on its journey with the Bayfront project. An initial phase is focused on energy efficiency, renewable generation and smart infrastructure for its Bayfront properties. But the long-term plan centers on citywide energy efficiency and smart devices, data analytics and software to revamp the city’s critical infrastructure. The plan includes high-performance buildings and city infrastructure that incorporates energy efficiency, demand response and clean energy generation technologies.

The “Digital Roadmap” created by Kansas City, Missouri – through a public-private partnership that includes Cisco, Sprint, Black & Veatch and other providers – offers another example of long-term blueprinting that can scale up and wide. Smart lighting, digital kiosks, smart water and other systems are being designed to take advantage of high-speed data deployed in the city’s urban center.

Bossom said that such a layered master plan gives communities a roadmap forward that conveys to all stakeholders the city’s long-term vision. It transparently projects costs and funding sources well in advance of adoption.

But perhaps the biggest advantage is a kind of “future-proofing” in which smart infrastructure upgrades and technologies are designed to work together as the plan ages and scales.

Master planning is inclusive and anticipates future systems,” Bossom said. “It arguably carries the biggest payoff.”

Published originally on Black & Veatch Solutions.