2018 Colorado Smart Cities Symposium8 min read
Last week, I was invited to attend the Colorado Smart Cities Symposium, hosted by the Colorado Technology Association. This was a one-day conference in partnership with the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, which brought together thought leaders in smart city technology, innovation and public-private partnerships to discuss how to solve the complex urban challenges our cities face. In Monday night’s Superior Town Board meeting, Trustee Rita Dozal mentioned that smart cities were the hot topic at the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOGs) meeting she recently attended, so I thought it would be valuable to share the insights I took back from the conference.
Just five to ten years ago, people primarily moved for jobs. Today, we are more likely to move where we want to live for the lifestyle – and employers follow. This isn’t news to Superior residents, as almost all of us choose to live in Superior because we love it, even though we work elsewhere. But “smart cities” technology can be used to help protect that lifestyle we love, even as growing populations challenge the very things we moved here for.
There are four major focus areas for smart cities: intelligent lighting, public safety and security, intelligent parking solutions, and intelligent traffic management. While the idea of using new technology may be scary, all four of these areas are or will be problematic for Superior, and I’m fascinated by the idea of solving these challenges with technology. According to Mark Jules, global VP of Smart Spaces and Video Intelligence at Hitachi, “The technology is here, but now it’s a matter of coordinating [with regions] to make sure the technology can be successfully applied.” As far as that application goes, there are two of these focus areas I think could be wins for Superior: intelligent lighting, and public safety / security.
Intelligent lighting is something I’ve already experimented with in my home. I use LED “dawn to dusk” lightbulbs (available for about $7 each) that automatically turn on when they detect it’s dark out, and turn off when it gets light. This not only saves me electricity, but also ensures that my front porch lamp is always lighting the path to my door. One area I’d love to see these added to our Town is in the underpasses on our trails. Sometimes I’ve been out running and it’s late enough in the day that the lights aren’t on (presumably they are on timers?), but the underpass itself is pretty dark (I’m looking at you, Coalton Road underpass north of Calmante), and I’m always worried something will be lurking in there… or more realistically, that I’ll trip.
We’ve unfortunately recently seen the value of cameras to improve safety and security, when neighbor Rochelle Colton posted a video of a young man trying to pick the lock on her front door at 1am Monday morning. I too have a Ring Video Doorbell, as well as motion sensing cameras connected to my security system, and feel confident that if someone did break into my home, a very loud alarm would go off and I’d have thorough documentation to take to the police. Cameras could be used in our town to monitor parks / public spaces and help deter would-be vandals / criminals… which sadly, our small town is experiencing lately 🙁
Fun little side story: this week, FedEx came to deliver my campaign signs while I was out of town. I talked to the FedEx guy through my Ring Video Doorbell, then used the Chamberlain MyQ app to open my garage door for him so he could put all 200lbs of packages into my garage rather than leaving them on my front steps. Going back to the Ring app, I watched the FedEx worker load the boxes into my garage, said goodbye and thank you to him, and then toggled back to the MyQ app to close the garage door securely behind him. Ah, the wonders of the Internet of Things! (PS – Sign up here to support me by receiving a campaign lawn sign for your home.)
Intelligent parking solutions and intelligent traffic management are focus areas Superior probably doesn’t need right now… but could be more valuable as Superior Town Center continues being built out. At the Smart Cities conference, I learned that 30% of traffic congestion in cities comes from people circling to look for parking. The town of Aspen (population: 6,700, or about half of Superior’s) uses a mobile app for parking and adjusts prices to fit demand; furthermore, they have a program that offers rewards for carpooling or leaving your car at home rather than driving it downtown. In a completely different example, the city of Cary, NC, uses sensors to detect an influx of cars (e.g., from a concert or sporting event) and adjust traffic lights / reroute vehicles using Waze to improve flow and prevent traffic jams. While Cary’s population is much bigger, and Aspen’s tourist town demographic is dramatically different than Superior’s downtown, these are still great examples of municipalities investing in technology to solve transportation problems.
I realize this may all sound a little bit “out there” and futuristic, and I’ll be the first to admit that change isn’t easy! As Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko pointed out, “This is the VHS / Betamax moment for Smart Cities and technology. There are so many shiny objects.” As excited as I am by some of these examples, we need to choose our investments wisely by focusing on solutions, goals, and stories, rather than investing in technology tools without knowing why we’re spending money on them and what their use will be.
Mike Beevor, technical director for IoT and Smart/Safe Cities within Pivot3, noted that a common mistake is trying to put everything on IoT (the Internet of Things) at once; he suggests starting with one goal and scaling infrastructure from there. Karen Meidlinger, Director of New Business Ventures at Comcast, concurs; she suggests doing a lot of pilots rather than investing in robust infrastructure up front. This is an approach I absolutely agree with, and frequently use with my clients: setting project goals, conducting a pilot to see if the goals are achievable, then adjusting and investing to make them happen. (It’s also the same approach that Superior is already taking with speed hump installations on Castle Peak and Pitkin.)
According to Zach Huhn, CEO of Venture Smarter and Chairman of IEEE Smart Cities Standards Committee, local government initiatives should do one of three things: cut costs, generate new revenue, or create new experiences. I really like this framework to ensure that we aren’t chasing after shiny objects with no value for our town, and I’m also glad that his framework includes “experiences” as one of the valued outcomes. Superior is unique in having ~14,000 residents but feeling like a small town. I think the creation of unique experiences is a way to retain that small town feel while still attracting visitors who can contribute to our sales tax revenue, and it’s part of why I’m so excited by the work that our Cultural Arts and Public Spaces (CAPS) Committee is doing to plan concerts and events.
While you and I know that Superior is the best place to live and raise a family, I’d like to see Superior become known beyond our town limits for the cool experiences we offer – like the 4th of July race / parade / pancake breakfast, the September chili / beer festival, and hopefully some more things to come. (Have you been to one of my free Sunday Sundaes ice cream parties?) But beyond events, technology could be part of what puts us on the map, and I’m interested in exploring how we can be a more visionary town that harnesses the intelligence and talents of our above-average citizens.
As you can see from the above graphic, the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance has a number of cities and towns that are members… and I’m disappointed that Superior is not on that list. I don’t think we need to pioneer the bigger initiatives that some of our larger neighbors have (like the Go Centennial pilot that aims to solve the first/last mile challenge of public transit), but I’d like to see us identify ways to adapt smart city ideas and innovation for small town life that fits Superior’s scale.
As Centennial Innovation Team Data Analyst Melanie Morgan points out, “A smart city is one that has thoughtful investment. It invests in the right things, at the right time, and is able to say “no” to products and services that don’t measure up.” That is a great summary of my approach to all the new business opportunities that come to my consulting clients; I hope I can use that same philosophy to shepherd smart growth of technology and development in Superior.
If you’d like to learn more about Smart Cities, here is a curated list of articles I found interesting:
- Just what IS a smart city? (Colorado Smart Cities Alliance)
- 5 Ways Technology And Design Can Create Smarter Cities (Bisnow)
- Five essential steps to becoming a smart city (ZD Net)
- Colorado Walks the Talk When It Comes to Collaboration (Smart Cities Connect)
- Centennial joins Colorado Smart Cities Alliance to boost infrastructure (Centennial Citizen)
Thoughts? Ideas? I’m all ears, both in the comments below and via email.