The “Light Up Dallas” Smart City Panel Recap
By Joyce Deuley
For those that don’t know, Dallas and the Fort Worth (DFW) region has been diligently working on smart city projects for some time with what can only be described as gusto. In fact, Richardson, TX is listed as one of participants for the U.S. Ignite’s smart gigabit communities meant to foster the development of next-gen applications. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Recognizing that now is the time to get involved with shaping the future for residents, there has been a lot of collaboration between DFW city governments, businesses, and the community at large to bring solutions about. The Tech Titans’ panel discussion last month, “Light up Dallas: A smart cities plan for the future”, was just one more opportunity to share about the DFW region’s smart city projects and what it hopes to ultimately achieve.
While definitions of what a smart city is widely varies, Jori Mendel, Manager of Strategic Alliance for Smart Cities Organizations for AT&T, shared the company’s definition as “the integration of technology with a strategic approach to sustainability, cost-reduction, citizen-wellbeing, and economic development”. Since the White House announced its smart cities focus last year, AT&T has become increasingly more involved in smart city solutions and projects and sees connectivity as, to quote Mendel, the “golden thread” in IoT. For smart cities to work, according to the network provider, there needs to be an established network, a defined strategy, and cooperation from legislation/government. Which is why the carrier is keen to find progressive, innovative cities with well-defined goals to partner with. During her presentation, Mendel also covered the key drivers that provide dramatic impact towards citizen-wellbeing, such as public safety, education, health, jobs, food, energy, waste management, but the main focus of the “Light Up Dallas” panel discussion was on transportation.
There are many reasons as to why cities pursue “smart” solutions for them and their residents, but rapid urbanization seems to be leading the pack. In the Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA) presentation, Jenn Sanders, company Co-founder and Executive Director, stated that “Smart cities are this generation’s space race,” and that by 2025, there will be about $1.6 trillion spent on smart city projects. Sanders also went onto share that currently 90% of urban spaces are in approximately 5% of available land in the U.S. That, coupled with the U.N.’s prediction of what the global population will be (9.7 billion by 2050) and the projected percentages that will reside in urban areas—roughly 70% according to the Population Reference Bureau, cities are under a lot of pressure to find scalable and sustainable options to support this type of growth. Providing improved and quality services for the increasing population contributes to the need for municipalities to more aggressively address public safety, environmental sustainability, economic development, and aging infrastructure.
Much like IoT, the “smart city” isn’t a new concept. In John Levis’ presentation, a Sr. Principal Analyst for Deloitte, he spoke about how the U.S. is trailing behind in terms of smart city solutions and deployments where as other countries are leading the way because their cities are older, have been urbanized for much longer, and have needed to improve and adapt as populations have increased dramatically overtime. But, while other regions may have a lead on smart cities, Levis pointed out that “There is no silver bullet” for deploying these kinds of solutions. In terms of subject matter, expertise, collaboration, structure, experience, money and other factors, each city has different needs and perspectives, which makes finding turnkey solutions difficult. Boiling that down, “Every city is going to be different,” and subsequently, so will its smart city solutions.
But while that is true, there are ways in which cities can better deal with these complexities. According to Levis, cities should have a solid approach to smart cities, including a strategy for planning and funding, what types of business model transformation they’re looking for since smart cities have long lifecycles, and the scalability of those solutions overtime. One way to get the ball rolling in the right direction would be to get the ecosystem of buyers and sellers and stakeholders in the same room to not only generate ideas, but to “identify a series of priorities and a large amount of buy-in.” The important factor is not just to figure out who’s onboard, but with how these strategies can be executed.
As a thought leader for Ericsson, Dr. Brenda Connor’s presentation highlighted what is possible when cities and industry leaders are not only on the same page, but are able to see the plan through to the end. One example Dr. Connor gave was Ericsson’s 2015 project with San Jose Dos Campos in Brazil to improve the management of the city’s emergency response teams. By developing and deploying an integrated, multi-agency emergency response management solution, San Jose Dos Campos’ homicide rate decreased by 19% and its crime rate dropped 30% overall. But, getting these kinds of results comes with cooperation from the top, meaning that city officials need to be onboard right from the start. According to Dr. Connor, mayors want “holistic, measurable, easy-to-understand results.” To address this, companies need to work with municipalities to reduce the complexity and implement scalable, future-proofed solutions that will grow with the city’s needs overtime. Ericsson’s recipe for achieving this is to get public, private, and academic partnerships to work together to foster communication and business participation, create sustainable city models, as well as dynamic city openness concepts and measurements.
So, what has the DFW region been doing to improve its transportation systems and services? Thomas Bamonte, Program Manager for Automated Vehicles for the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), covered what problems the region faced, what it was hoping to accomplish, and spoke about making “smart” moves, rather than “dumb” ones in his presentation, “How DFW manages to not get stuck with smart cities”.
According to Bamonte, in recent years the region has spent $120 billon in state and or federal money and investment from local government, but the transportation systems didn’t see the levels of improvement they were expecting. In order to fix this issue, the region needed to consider how it was going improve those margins, whether to make it smarter and or get to mobility solutions that make sense for the region overall.
DFW faces some pretty big obstacles when it comes to streamlined transportation management, such as: the city is auto-centric and there isn’t much diversity in transportation options; it’s unfriendly to pedestrian/cycle environments; increasing transportation costs; poverty/economic inequality; population gusts; playing catchup with emerging tech; as well as a “sparse network” between workers/jobs. Previous projects did improve transportation services, but weren’t working “well enough.” On top of that, the DFW region is expected to host 10+ million people by 2040, and in terms of transportation technology, DFW—and Texas—are behind in terms of partnerships and the rest of the industry.
Bamonte went on to mention some of the not-so-savvy or “dumb” moves that the region had previously attempted, that consisted of “complacency, blind emulation of ‘emerging or smart’ solutions, and [merely] recreating 20thcentury solutions.” Currently, however, the city was pursuing more strategic and “smart” moves by transitioning to a data-centric approach that values the power of price, open mindedness, developing a “shrewd mobility focus,” addressing accessibility over vehicle speed, and rapid deployments. But, in order to execute on these “Smart Moves”, Bamonte suggested that a shift in thinking is in order. For instance, the region needs to make culture and jobs more accessible to people, and the solutions to this may not include more transportation. Rather, “We need to make important things accessible.” One example of how the NCTCOG’s vehicle automotive program is attempting to do this is by requesting that the region make DFW transportation available to the development community for useful in-vehicle applications.
But, the NCTCOG isn’t the only organization making strides in transportation. The DIA has been working on smart cities solutions since the federal government has become more involved, like when the U.S. Department of Transportation issued its Smart City Challenge competition. Currently, the DIA is forging ahead with a new project in Dallas’ West End, essentially creating a “living lab preset zone” in order to give the city an “innovation district.” Within the West End, the DIA wants to help set up intelligent LED lighting, place instructional kiosks around the area for residents and tourists, as well as have ubiquitous network connectivity, smart parking with an end-to-end mobility app and open-source platform, and waste management services. Additionally, the Dallas Innovation District will partner with Charlotte, NC to build up a partnership ecosystem emphasizing corporations, entrepreneurship, and innovation in both cities with the “For Cities by Cities” project. On top of all of that, the DIA is set to hone in on and evaluate neighboring cities within the Dallas area each quarter for what they need. Sanders and her team has recognized that it can be difficult for smaller cities to compete with larger cities for resources, and they hope to positively address this issue via “alliances and partnerships across municipalities and [to create]cross-functionality.”
By and large, this was a heavy-hitting panel discussion that touched on pain points that many cities are struggling with, as well as proactive ways in which to address them. One of my favorite aspects of the event was how each presentation built off the other, providing a holistic view of the DFW region’s smart transportation efforts. Ultimately, the only way that it—or any city—is going to succeed with smart city innovation is with meaningful collaboration from industry experts, educational organizations, the community and city government, of which this panel effectively represented. Personally, I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.
*Image Source: 10best.com