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Demystifying Smart Cities: The Tech is Here to Deploy Smart Solutions

September 15, 2021 by Victoria Turner

WASHINGTON — Cities that have been investing in technology to someday become Smart Cities have been able to react, adapt and meet the digital challenges brought on by the pandemic quicker than those that have not, said Patti Zullo, senior director of Smart City Solutions at Charter Communications, Tuesday. 

But first, we need to “demystify” what building a smart city means, said Lili Gangas, chief technology community officer at the Kapor Center during the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council event on the establishment of Smart Cities across the U.S. “It’s really about being connected,” Gangas said. 

Smart Cities aim to improve quality of life by leveraging the networks and technology already available to them, Zullo said. What it comes down to is having a network that can gather data through deployed devices and sensors to analyze it to improve services for the community. 

As an example Zullo cited a city where the infant mortality rates were very high and data showed the unemployment rate was also high. Digging further into the data, they found expectant mothers had a difficult time reaching hospitals or their doctors so the city made rideshare available to provide subsidized transportation to the women.

“Coming out of COVID, we’re all in tech now,” Gangas said, as the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation. 

With the likelihood of two-thirds of the world becoming urban communities in about 10 years, she added, the U.S. has “an opportunity, a privilege and a responsibility” to make sure that these solutions reach the “communities and the zip codes that have gone overlooked and underinvested for way too long…a lot of times systematically.” 

But it’s not just about being connected, said Dr. Hardie Davis, Jr., mayor of Augusta, Georgia. A trained electrical engineer, Davis echoed Gangas in that Smart Cities need to be redefined in what they can and should aim to achieve. It’s about using the data gathered to deliver proper solutions for the benefit of the people living there. 

“The global pandemic has revealed to us some of the great fissures of our economy, but also how we deliver services to individuals,” Davis said.

“But the challenge that we are presented with today is one of closing the racial wealth and equity gap when we talk about building Smart Cities,” Davis said. 

A Smart City, he explained, must address homelessness, hunger and poverty, while simultaneously providing connectivity and clean air, water and energy. It must be committed to closing this gap, he added,” through sensors, heat maps, broadband and ethical [artificial intelligence].”

Augusta, he said, has been focusing on smarter city services, improvising public access and an “open Augusta” – data sharing and transparency to make that data available for those outside of the local governments that could be helpful in solving the city’s challenges. 

Access in Augusta has also been improved not only through apps assisting transportation management, but by also establishing smart kiosks to pay bills set up at frequently transited areas like grocery stores or deploying broadband in their community centers – not just libraries. 

According to Zullo, almost all cities working to become Smart Cities have honed in on transportation and traffic – attempting to use data collected on the latter to deploy “vision zero” to have zero accidents by analyzing traffic patterns in intersections. 

Providing environmental sustainability is another key factor driving smart cities along with making “smarter” decision-making and advancing economic competitiveness and development. 

Becoming a Smart City is marrying the network connectivity, the sensors and devices to collect real-time data, Zullo said, “so that you can make decisions on how things should be operating or what you can do to help cities and what you can do to help your city be more efficient.” 

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