I am looking forward to my upcoming trip to Shanghai. I will deliver a keynote address at the 2017 Global Cities Forum hosted by the China Institute for Urban Governance at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
The Smart City Bandwagon: Have We Lost our Way?
Cities around the world are investing significant resources to transform themselves into smarter (more intelligent) entities. While there is no doubt that these efforts are important and valuable, I am troubled with how these efforts have evolved. Too often, I see efforts that focus predominantly on the technical and data elements of the equation, without much care to how they impact the social, economic, and civic elements. Drawing on my recent research, I will argue that we need to reframe the dominant conversation on smart cities. Cities across the globe have become more fragile over the last few years. Infrastructure, economic, social, political, and civic elements impact the level of fragility in a city. We need to focus our conversation on how we can use technology for social good to address issues such as a preserving and strengthening the social compact, implementing technical solutions responsibly, and designing governance frameworks that account for a diversity of interests, aspirations, and values. I will outline design practices to reflect upon as we work toward making our communities more livable, just, sustainable, and resilient. As John Christopher Jones reminds us " design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid but marvelously capable, given the chance.”
I will be attending the BIG Ideas Conference hosted by the Alliance for Innovation in Fort Lauderdale. I co-authored one of the discussion papers for the conference with Kendra Smith. The paper takes a critical look at what it takes to build cities and communities that are economically resilient.
Economic Resilience: No Big Ideas Needed!
Resilience is one of the most bastardized terms when it comes to planning and management jargon. We all want resilience, yet it means drastically different things to many people. To some, resilience is the ability to respond to shocks and abrasions in the environment, while others think of resilience as the ability to continuously innovate and stay ahead of the curve so as not to become obsolete. Economic vulnerability and economic resilience play a strong role in cities’ resilience. Economic vulnerability is an entities proneness to exogenous shocks coming from economic features such as economic openness, export concentration, and dependence on strategic imports. Economic resilience is the ability of an organization, whether it is a business or a city or even a country, to withstand the impacts of financial and economic shocks and to bounce back quickly, or to avoid shocks through proactive planning and interventions. In this paper, we will explore the many facets of economic resilience, drivers of economic resilience, investing in resilience, and the risks of resilience planning. Additionally, we will offer domestic and international examples of cities that have experience with resilience planning, either through risk reduction or after-the-fact resilience planning. Finally, we will conclude with a discussion on the realities of economic resilience.
Please email me if you would like a copy of the paper.
I also serve on the Board of Directors for the Alliance for Innovation and am looking forward to engaging discussions during our board meetings.
Rashmi Krishnamurthy and I have a paper accepted in Cities.
Cities around the world are experiencing tremendous population growth, and this is especially true in the developing world. In this profile, we feature the city of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, India. Chennai is the largest industrial commercial center in South India; it is often referred as the “Detroit of India” and the “Gateway to South India.” In recent decades, large industrial facilities have been established in Chennai and its suburbs—resulting in large-scale population growth. However, this explosive growth has strained the urban infrastructure of this prominent city. In this profile, we provide an overview of Chennai’s urban history from social, economic, political, and environmental perspectives. We highlight the current and future challenges faced by the city, and we argue that it is well poised to leverage emerging smart city technologies. However, to effectively implement these technologies, city administrators need to undertake several measures; for example, a database capturing all dimensions of the city must be developed. By clearly delineating the urban planning and policy efforts to the present and offering a way forward, this paper contributes to the growing literature on smart cities and the unique urban challenges faced by cities in the developing world.
‘Big’ Data + ‘Open’ Data + ‘Mobile’ Data: Urban Informatics
I take the view of a city as a platform. As a platform, a city has infrastructure, processes, organizations, individuals, and technology as components. Additionally, cities are comprised of technical (e.g. sensors), social (e.g. humans), and socio-technical components (e.g. processes). The glue that holds these components together and enables integration and coordination to occur is data and information. The effective and efficient management of information is not only critical to ensure that each of the components operate optimally but also ensures that the overall system, the city, achieves its overall objectives. In this paper, I focus on three key data dimensions in the context of urban informatics: big, open, and mobile data. Key issues within each data dimension are presented. The paper builds on several research projects on smart cities, urban informatics, and policy informatics. Data collected during these projects includes over 45 case studies, over 60 interviews with key informants, analysis of over several thousand pages secondary data, and an examination of over 70 technology solutions that span mobile apps, online crowdsourcing platforms, sensors, analytical and visualization technologies, and associated urban technologies. The paper puts forth several considerations that need to be accounted for when discussing the potential of data and technologies to transform our urban spaces towards the goals of making them intelligent, livable, sustainable, and resilient.
In collaboration with my colleagues, David Swindell, Jonathan GS Koppell, and Kendra L. Smith, I authored the Smart Cities Financing Guide for the Smart Cities Council. This guide highlights 28 of the most promising financial tools — including alternatives to the traditional funding mechanisms municipalities have used for decades. It also includes:
- Detailed analyses of each option based on 10 characteristics to help decision makers easily identify the best tools for specific types of projects.
- Examples of how these tools are being used today.
The press release can be found here [LINK].
To access the guide, please click here [LINK]
About the Smart Cities Council
The Smart Cities Council is the trusted advisor to equip cities with tools and knowledge to cope with expanding populations, shrinking budgets and aging infrastructure. It is comprised of the world's foremost smart city practitioners advised by unbiased, independent experts, including top universities, national laboratories, standards bodies, climate advocacy groups and development banks. The Council’s goal is to accelerate the growth of smart cities worldwide by providing city leaders with best practices and vendor-neutral guidance on technology, finance, policy and, citizen engagement. For more information, view a brief introductory video about the Smart Cities Council.
I recently authored an article for Planetizen.
Unless you have been hibernating, you have heard about urbanization trends and have spent time reflecting on what this might hold for the future of communities, cities, nations, and the planet as a whole. The world’s total urban area is expected to triple between 2000 and 2030—urban populations are set to double to around 4.9 billion in the same period. The number of megacities is expected to double over the next decade, and many of these growing cities are far from resilient. The solution: frugal engineering and local knowledge. Read more
I am heading to Portugal for the Conference on Economic Resilience. I co-organized this event along with two colleagues, Isabel Ramos (University of Minho) and James R. Martin, II (Clemson University). The conference will be held at Largo do Paço – Rectorate. Attendees at the event include:
- Norio Okada, Director of Disaster Recovery Governance Research Institute, Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan
- Alejandro Pinto-Gonzalez, DG CONNECT Policy Office, European Commission, Belgium
- Helena Molin Valdes, Deputy Director UN-ISDR, Switzerland
- Francis Ghesquiere, Manager for the World Bank’s Disaster Risk Management Practice Group and Head of GFDRR Secretariat
- António Cunha, Rector of the University of Minho, Portugal
- Alvaro Santos Pereira, Minister of Economy and Employment of Portugal
To what disruptions must cities be resilient? How can cities, as complex systems, be resilient? Building a capacity for resilience might be a daunting task when one considers the multitude of components, processes, and interactions that take place within and beyond a city’s physical, logical (e.g. legal), and virtual (cyberspace) boundaries. Planning for resilience to the impacts of stressors within cities requires an evaluation of the vulnerable components of cities, an understanding of the key processes, procedures, and interactions that organize these components and develop the capacity to address various structuring of components and their interactions with the ultimate goal of achieving resilience.
I have co-authored a paper with Trevor Flanery (Urban Affairs and Planning, College of Architecture and Urban Studies, Virginia Tech) that provides a deeper look at resilience in cities, proposes a conceptual resilience framework, and includes a discussion and analysis of the framework. We propose a framework that serves as a holistic approach to designing, planning, and managing for resilience by including an evaluation of cultural and process dynamics within cities as well as their physical elements.
The paper will appear in Cities.
Resilience is a term much bandied about these days in the planning and development professions. Buildings, plans, economies and even cities are expected to be resilient to unforeseen externalities in a world of rapidly changing technologies, climates, and cultures. With this in mind, we at the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech would like to engage you, the planning and development community, in a discussion of what exactly it means to be resilient in a planning context, whether this is a laudable goal, and, if so, how we can achieve it. To read more, please click here.