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There is a lot of buzz about “smart cities” these days, with cities such as Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Austin, Columbus and Kansas City taking constructive steps in this direction. But the truth is we don’t yet have a single fully-functioning smart city. So amid all the buzz, you may ask yourself, “What constitutes a ‘smart city?’” Glad you asked!

There are multiple answers to your question, none more right than the others. City council members, technology analysts, professors, and telecommunications and civil engineers are just a few of the professionals focusing on the topic. While they all may offer different definitions, all can agree that generally a smart city should be a reliable, safe and healthy place to live. You may think that sounds very broad and vague. The catch is in how cities go about being these things. Let’s dive in and I’ll show you what I mean!

Reliability A reliable city is one that we can count on to provide the basic necessities of life: water, electricity, sewer, trash, roads, buildings, etc. But what makes a reliable smart city? A reliable smart city is one in which all the services listed above are connected through smart technologies and solutions. This includes things like broadband networks manufactured with fiber optic technologies, autonomous vehicles knowing which lane to be in to reduce traffic and congestion, and smart water and electric meters to reduce the use of these utilities and find/resolve problems more efficiently.

Safety A safe city is one that provides the basic safety services such as police, fire, EMS, 9-1-1, etc. But what makes a safe smart city? It is one in which all these safety services are connected through smart technologies and solutions. This will include things such as gunshot recognition software operating via a fiber optic network that instantly recognizes and alerts the authorities if/when a gunshot is detected. Imagine sensors placed on lamp posts and streetlights that turn on when a car is parked in its buffer zone or more than “x” number of people walk by, thus saving energy and keeping the streets illuminated only when necessary. Picture also drones running off wireless and fiber networks introduced to police, fire, and EMS that can help locate missing persons or escaped convicts.

Health A healthy city is one that promotes its citizens and businesses to move about in both the built and social environments, promoting health in their daily lives. But what makes a healthy smart city? A healthy smart city is one in which the city promotes being active in all environments through smart technologies and solutions. These include things like lit bike lanes that use solar powered technologies and connect the entire city, encouraging citizens to cycle rather than drive at any time of the day. It also means introducing free public Wi-Fi to open spaces, parks, gyms, and other active places to incentivize people who are active and to inspire those who are not to become so. Imagine even implementing neighborhood gardening spaces using Wi-Fi based watering systems to bring healthy, organic foods to residents, resulting in healthier eating habits and money saved.

Broadband Notice how all of the smart technologies and solutions share a theme: broadband. Fiber is the one commonality that all smart visionary cities share. A true smart city must involve fiber optics. The possibility of school districts with gunshot warning systems and community gardens with Wi-Fi watered plants is not possible without a fiber optic network. A FTTx (Fiber to the ‘x’) is a high speed broadband network which brings speeds of 1 -10gb to a home, business, wireless signal, etc. With technologies and individuals advancing every day, our municipalities must keep up. Broadband is a utility that should be affordable and readily available to every citizen in the US. And municipalities should be given the freedom and power to own and operate this utility if they so choose and, in my opinion, should do so through an Open Access Network (OAN).

Open Access Network (OAN) It’s my opinion that a true representation of a smart city is one that operates through a single network capable of supporting both traditional internet and TV service, as well as the smart sensor applications. I choose this model instead of a mishmash of separately owned networks built on top of or in parallel to one another. The smart play long term is to design and build a single OAN capable of supporting both traditional internet, TV service, and the smart sensor applications of the future. An OAN allows for greater competition in the market place because consumers can switch providers at the click of a button, resulting in lower prices, better customer service, and more choice. This open access approach to network operations makes for a solid foundational infrastructure upon which smart city applications can be easily implemented and scaled. Connectivity is required to make a reliable, safe, and healthy smart city a reality, ideally through a combination of fiber optic networks and the open access model . Encourage your cities and its administrators to take the next steps towards converting to a smart city today!

About Foresite Group

Foresite Group is a multidisciplinary engineering, planning, and consulting firm providing services to public and private sector clients nationwide. Our team’s collaborative process results in creative products and services that help our clients achieve their goals. Our team takes pride in enhancing and developing the cities and communities where we live, work, and raise our families.

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