Enhancing urban growth with smart-city technology

By David Blankenhorn

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases their Infrastructure Report Card and assigns grades based on the physical condition and necessary investments in the United States’ infrastructure. Unfortunately, in the 2017 report the U.S. received an overall grade of D+—the same grade it received in 2013. With global city population growth expected to nearly double by 2050, state and local governments must be able to support dense – possibly even overcrowded – areas by doing more while dealing with increasingly tighter fiscal restraints.

Fortunately, technology advancements can be used not only as a catalyst to help optimize urbanization; it may even enhance the desirability of urban lifestyles. As a starting point, governments with citizen-focused missions should consider smart-city technologies relating to city transportation and design in order to mitigate issues associated with population growth like congestion and pollution.

Government leaders can leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing to make city planning and design more efficient, and make urban centers more pleasant places to live.

The role of IoT and cloud computing

From fleet tracking sensors to open data collection, smart city technology is paving the way for urban innovation. In fact, city governments are investing approximately $41 trillion over a 20-year period to upgrade their infrastructure and benefit from the IoT.

The IoT and sensor devices play a huge role in how city leaders create and collect data, thereby aiding the decision-making processes for an even smarter smart city. For example, sensors embedded within streetlights might detect automobile and pedestrian traffic congestion and possibly even noise levels.  The analysis of this sensor data may result in more efficient automotive and pedestrian traffic patterns, lowered noise and air pollution, and lights that are only at their brightest when pedestrians are actually present.  All of these outcomes have the potential to increase residents’ happiness while lowering government costs. Much of this is made possible thanks to the integration of connected devices, sensors and networks.

In order to maximize the use of all of this data, a scalable storage and computing platform that facilitates access is needed.  Providing exactly this sort of platform is where cloud computing really shines.

City, state, and national governments need access to the collected data and the analysis of said data in order to understand priorities, create policy and enact change.   Data hosted in a cloud platform can minimize the technical access challenges, thereby bridging silos and providing accessibility and real-time visibility to all stakeholders. And the elastic nature of cloud means that the necessary compute needed to perform the required analysis can easily be brought to bear on complex big data processing or modeling jobs.

Cloud computing can also be leveraged by city planners to facilitate urban design and architecture projects. Techniques like simulation and large-scale data processing can be used to create budgets for capital improvements and visualize maintenance costs. This process creates an opportunity for city planning teams to engage in a more collaborative experience, ultimately saving time and money by avoiding potentially costly errors. Some IoT devices and sensors can also collect data in near real-time, allowing the analytics platforms and the teams leveraging them to make more timely decisions.

With this influx of smart IoT devices comes the need to collect enormous amounts of both structured and unstructured data — and state and local governments don’t typically have the budgets or technological expertise for digital transformation. Together, private- and public-sector entities and individuals must work together to join the smart city revolution. Data scientists, analysts, and technology can aid officials in gaining a better understanding of the meaning behind the data captured by these devices. Agencies should leverage these resources and new capabilities to analyze and generate insights from disparate data sources to make faster, more informed decisions on transportation systems, urban design, project development, citizen services, and more.

Innovation may just be the key to doing more with less at the state and local level. As urban centers become more densely populated, new tools are needed to facilitate the planning and implementation of citizen services and increase the quality of life within our urban centers while removing inefficiencies and costs.  These new tools include the IoT, cloud computing, and analytics technology, and their inclusion into the decision making toolset is vital for governments to stay efficient and enhance the quality of life for the rapidly growing population of people they serve.


David Blankenhorn is the chief technology officer at DLT Solutions, a leading solutions provider focused exclusively on solving public sector IT challenges. 



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