The Journey Towards Building A Smart Community
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The Journey Towards Building a Smart Community

By Lisa Brown, Performance InfrastructureTM Senior National Director of Municipal Infrastructure and Smart Cities, Johnson Controls

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Lisa Brown, Performance InfrastructureTM Senior National Director of Municipal Infrastructure and Smart Cities, Johnson Controls

For the last few years, local governments have been focused on updating city infrastructure and implementing new technologies to bring their vision of a smart city to life. However, the success of any city is often dependent on a thriving community around them as they work together to improve the economy, work with local law enforcement, and implement emergency response.

For a smart city to be truly successful, government leaders need to take a look at the bigger picture and work towards creating a “smart community.” Working together, cities can make strides in creating a safer city and more efficient environment. For example, communities today are facing more environmental challenges than ever before. There are risks associated with rising sea levels, increased precipitation and temperatures, intense flooding and hurricanes as well as other events that now factor into our daily lives, meaning resiliency needs to have a major role in city development. This is where a smart community can prove its worth. In an emergency, communities can band together to foster effective resource allocation and infrastructure management.

"For a smart city to be truly successful, government leaders need to take a look at the bigger picture and work towards creating a smart community"

Take smart street lights for example. They are a staple asset in every city, but can also be very valuable when it comes to resiliency planning in a community. LED lights can be leveraged and programmed to correspond with city evacuation plans lighting a path to safety–which may be the next city over or avoiding certain roads. With the addition of sensors, smart street lights can detect poor air quality, icing and even water levels in the event of a flood. Each individual smart city is collecting data that can be helpful in mitigating the impact of a natural disaster, but in times of emergency, communities can work together to ensure the best chance of safety.

Taking a step back

The end goal should be a thriving, smart community, but how can we get there? For established smart cities it means starting conversations with other local government officials to see how they can best work together – understanding the limitations separate budgets present. For cities who are looking to take their first step in their smart city journey it is about focusing on one technology to start and then building on that infrastructure in the future. This concept of “land and expand,” helps cities jump start their progress in building a smart city while remaining within their budgets.

A great place to start is smart lighting or smart water meters, which connects centralized water and waste water systems providing necessary data to public works departments. The data can then be used to pinpoint existing and potential leaks, compare year-over-year consumption levels, track customer payments, and provide information on how water usage varies by type of business or size of home. This not only streamlines management in the moment, but helps municipal leaders define priorities for the future as it relates to sustainability, infrastructure maintenance, overall system performance and more. Those same meters can also be used for flood detection, especially in flood-prone areas, to provide proactive communication to drivers and residents about potentially flooded roadways – helping the city operate more smoothly.

However, for a smart community to be possible it is essential that all of the surrounding cities have the necessary means and funds to move forward with infrastructure upgrades. It has become more evident that social equity continues to play a major role in the development of smart cities, highlighting a clear digital divide in communities. The goal of a smart community is to help all residents and businesses thrive, not just the well-off. It is important that all cities have the available connectivity, updated transit systems and technology within facilities across all neighborhoods for community success.

There’s no denying that cities are growing at an unprecedented rate and rapid urbanization creates many uncertainties in regard to budgets, infrastructure, and the ability to create a more connected convenient lifestyle and workplace for citizens and city employees. Yet, developing smart cities – and eventually smart communities – continues to be a priority for local government officials. The push for developing cities in ways that deliver more options, protect natural resources, honor shared culture and heritage, and ultimately improve the economy is a goal we all need to work together to achieve.