Commentary

Smart Communities: Streamlining For The Future

Imagine the scene: It’s a Saturday night, and you’re having friends over for dinner. You’re excited, but it’s been a busy week, and you haven’t had much time to plan.

So you start chatting with your refrigerator, integrated with Amazon’s Alexa. The fridge lets you know what’s inside, suggests some meal ideas and tells you what you’ll need to buy. You place your order and start focusing on cleaning, telling your Roomba to vacuum the floors and your Google Home to pick a cooking playlist. You enjoy the few minutes of reprieve, knowing that soon your groceries will arrive via drone delivery.

This is the world of the smart home – a world of incredible convenience and connectivity. These innovations set us free to do what we really want and need to do – work, play, relax, socialize – and reduce the tedious time spent on chores and errands. 

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As exciting as these changes are, they’re just the beginning. This same desire for convenience and connectivity is driving the global push for smart communities – cities and towns powered by data analytics and the Internet of Things. Using artificial intelligence, sensors and automation, they will maximize productivity, streamline and strengthen public services and increase sustainability for citizens, communities and companies alike. And they’re coming soon – according to research from the Consumer Technology Association, the global smart city market will be worth more than $34.35 billion by 2020.

Struggling to picture it? Here’s a better sense of what a work day could be like in a smart community: Instead of having to go into the office every day, 5G broadband available across your city allows you to pick any spot you like – inside or outside, park or café – to work for the day. So instead of jumping in the car first thing in the morning, you walk to your favorite park, put your headphones on and settle in to get stuff done.

Later in the morning, you get an alert from your phone that says rain is due to start within the hour. You summon a self-driving cab and head into the office to continue preparing for a meeting that afternoon. The car takes you on what seems like a circuitous route, so you ask what’s going on. The car, which is connected to a data hub that monitors traffic and weather conditions throughout the city, informs you that traffic is particularly bad on the usual route and the cab decided to opt for an alternative route instead.

After the meeting, it’s time for a late lunch. You and a coworker decide to eat together, but you’re not sure where you want to go. You turn to your AI-powered assistant and ask it for some nearby recommendations, setting a price range and asking it to avoid places that are too crowded. The assistant suggests a new sandwich shop a few blocks away – crowded a few hours ago, but judging by pedestrian data sourced from sensors on the surrounding sidewalks, now in a lull. Checking out the menu, you’re intrigued, and the assistant texts you a map and walking instructions.

These are the possibilities of smart cities that can make our work more efficient, more enjoyable and more effective. But such possibilities aren’t simply perks or pluses, they’re actually the solution to a growing problem.

According to the World Health Organization, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. Our infrastructure simply isn’t ready for these shifts. And if we don’t act now to streamline public services and harness innovation, our cities will grow only more crowded, more congested and more corrosive to the environment and our health. We also need to invest in rural broadband, supporting people in communities from coast to coast – and around the world.

Rick Robinson, a smart cities expert in the UK, stresses the importance of what he calls the “Four C’s” in smart city planning: commitment, collaboration, consistency and community. It’s a sensible framework leaders and planners should embrace to successfully transition to smart communities. The community element is most important, as smart communities are defined by the citizens who live there.

The City of Fairfax, Virginia is a great example of the community element in action. The city’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan takes into consideration community wants and needs in future growth and expansion plans, including seeking community input for future retail, housing and office growth.

And between this and having just come back from CES, I'm inspired by the glimpse of a connected ecosystem that can revolutionize our cities and communities – in other words, a glimpse of the bright future that human ingenuity, innovation and imagination will deliver.

 

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