Branding / June 17, 2019
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May 2019 could prove to be an important milestone in smart city development in the United States, as members of Congress recently introduced the Smart Cities and Communities Act, a bill that will “allocate funding to coordinate federal ‘smart city’ programs, provide assistance to local programs, support workforce development and foster collaboration and security measures within smart cities … [and create]… a group of federal agencies to form an ‘Interagency Council on Smart Cities’ that would coordinate funding and federal efforts to promote civic technology.”  This edition of Marketing Trends takes a brief look at a smart city initiative in Boston to bring the vague concept of a “smart city” into focus—and provide information on how to turn an exciting vision for the future into business for AEC firms.
“Smart” technologies do not have a single definition but are easy enough to recognize by virtue of their reliance on the internet of things and data analytics. According to recent article from Statescoop, “While there isn’t a universally accepted definition for what makes a city ‘smart,’ Congress and federal agencies have taken an interest in the autonomous vehicles and internet-connected devices that primarily comprise the field today.” The USDOT 2015 Smart City Challenge finalists proposed a wide range of potential applications of technologies to improve the quality of life within their cities. For example, the winner, Columbus, Ohio, proposed a comprehensive plan to address challenges in moving freight and people using connected vehicles, electric charging infrastructure, and more. Visual Capitalist has a great infographic that further elaborates examples smart city innovations.
Vision Zero Boston is an initiative categorized as a “Smart Streets” initiative by the City of Boston.  According to Boston.gov, “Vision Zero Boston is the Boston Transportation Department’s commitment to focus the City’s resources on proven strategies to eliminate fatal and serious traffic crashes in the city by 2030.” Vision Zero Boston’s web page includes maps and dashboards showing crashes and high priority areas for improvement projects. Collecting these data through street cameras and other means has informed the city’s prioritization and placement of safety improvement projects including speed feedback signs, expanded bike lanes, and speed bumps.
Boston’s embrace of smart city initiatives is exciting for several reasons. In addition to improving the safety and quality of life for people who live and work in the area, the Vision Zero Boston project should excite anyone working for a firm that performs:
Thinking “smart” often entails thinking about how to best integrate seemingly disparate systems to improve the quality of life for citizens. A recent article in Forbes discusses integrated water, smart parking, and power management in Barcelona; and the breadth of social and logistical issues tackled by the Smart Cities Challenge finalists is really stunning. These examples make clear two things: First, smart city projects connect systems and services, e.g. electrical utilities and parking, that appear only loosely related; and second, the projects are often expensive, complicated endeavors that are multiple competitive procurements. Getting an early foot in the door enables firms to become familiar with the systems and people who will be involved with later procurements.
Boston may be uniquely qualified to pilot smart technologies because of the prevalence of universities, which provide a micro-laboratory in which to pilot initiatives that can then be initiated on a larger scale. Look out for opportunities to pilot certain technologies as a segue into a full-scale rollout.