When Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent Alphabet, decided to create a smart city, CEO Dan Doctoroff explained why the company was looking for a location with as few buildings and residents as possible. “There is an inverse relationship between your capacity to innovate, and the actual existence of people and buildings,” he said during a talk before the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association.
Existing cities come with baggage that Sidewalk Labs wants to avoid — limited budgets, traffic jams, pollution, archaic zoning regulations, neglected infrastructure and no end of political divisions. But it’s the ability to address these kinds of issues that has made the concept of smart cities so attractive to so many people. The goal of smart cities is not to create showplaces for technology but, the Smart Cities Council said, to use information and communications technology — smart sensors, the Internet of Things and machine learning—to enhance “livability, workability, and sustainability” for the residents of major cities like Miami, New York and Philadelphia.
By highlighting the work underway in the City of Brotherly Love, a recent Wharton conference, “Smart Utilities: A Bridge to Smart Cities of the Future,” helped clarify what it will take for Philadelphia to realize its potential as a smart city. From the beginning in 2016, the city approached the challenge strategically. Rather than tackle individual projects piecemeal, as so many cities have done, Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) decided to create a roadmap that would guide and ensure long-term coordination of its wide-ranging projects.
The first step, said Ellen Hwang, the city’s program manager for innovation management, was to take stock of what was already happening. And in Philadelphia, a lot was indeed happening.
In concert with residents, business associations, institutions and other city agencies, the City Planning Commission had developed a comprehensive blueprint, Philadelphia 2035, to guide public and private investment in the city’s physical development. A collaboration of governmental agencies and community and advocacy groups had developed a three-year Vision Zero action plan to eliminate traffic fatalities. The water department was deploying advanced metering infrastructure; the Office of Sustainability was working on an automated building management system; Philadelphia-based Comcast was rolling out its smart-city networking service, machineQ; and entrepreneurial students from Wharton were jumping into the smart city space. By assessing all this activity, OIT hoped to minimize redundancy and identify promising collaborative opportunities.
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