Why the US Needs Smart Cities Ranking

The time has arrived to compare and rank US smart cities as we move into the second greatest techno-cultural wave of the century, after the mobile revolution. Smart cities will digitize and profoundly transform our energy, mobility, water, waste and municipal services, including safety and outreach.

smart citiesClearly, smart cities and its Internet of Things (IoT, along with blockchain, etc.) underbelly will catalyze and energize many sectors of our economy in software, hardware, services and infrastructure.

Ten years ago, I wrote the book How Green is Your City?: The SustainLane US City Rankings, which benchmarked the largest 50 cities in 15 categories of economic and environmental sustainability, as well as climate resilience, and provided an aggregate ranking—from #1 Portland, Oregon to #50 Columbus, Ohio.

Since How Green Is Your City? came out in with its 1,000 data points and three billion media impressions, mayors from Michael Bloomberg of New York (#4 overall), to Richard Daley of Chicago (#6), lauded the study; cities like Houston (#39) formed sustainability departments in reaction; while the national leadership of China asked for guidance on how to similarly measure and rank its cities. Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy took aim on New York City, and the Paris Climate Accord, approved in 2015, was driven significantly by the participation of the more sustainable cities in national coalitions.

So why embark on a similar ranking for smart cities? As our climate-change impacted and globalized world becomes primarily urban, and with cities as the molten core of financial, political and economic power, we will require the new ability to use sensors to provide Big Data, and then there must be responses based upon artificial intelligence.

The need for smart cities has long been evident. The Bay Area consultancy I founded, Common Current, has worked globally since 2008 with smart city issues regarding water, infrastructure, transportation, air quality, buildings and energy. Through government and private sector clients in the United States, I have addressed national, urban and industry leaders throughout Asia as well as the European Union, and a French national ministry session on achieving net zero buildings at COP 21 in Paris.

Clearly there is acute interest in smart cities, especially in Europe and Asia. The present field of US smart cities is highly active, but it is also fragmented and opaque, just as US cities were in sustainability a decade ago.

For smart cities, Common Current has been tracking developments in more than 25 large US cities so far, from Google’s Sidewalk Labs and the Vulcan mobility project in Columbus, Ohio (Columbus, Ohio, won a $40 million US Department of Transportation grant for last year’s Smart Cities Challenge), to Comcast’s new wide area networks for sensors in Chicago, the Bay Area and Philadelphia.

Unlike Singapore or Barcelona on the international level, there is no clear smart city leader in the United States. There are many participants and key early projects: San Diego (LED street lighting platform), Boston (smart intersection), San Francisco (smart parking), New York (smart microgrid), Cincinnati (smart sewers), Atlanta (AT&T cross-sector framework), Los Angeles (smart poles for lighting and broadband), Louisville (the grassroots “Louie Lab”), and Kansas City (Smart City Streetcar Corridor).

The goal of the US Smart Cities Ranking is to cover the largest 50 cities by population with a unified research methodology and survey project, rank the cities in each category and overall, and to publish the results in an open-source format.

Through involvement with technology, infrastructure and financing entities in smart cities, we may have some biases, but transparency and consistent data values will be evident, as it was with the rankings in How Green Is My City? Former Seattle Sustainability Director Steve Nicholas, vice president of Climate and Environmental Programs at the Institute for Sustainable Communities, said, “I’ve been in the sustainability business for 15 or 20 years now. And these types of rankings have been tried dozens and dozens of times and this in my opinion is the best one in terms of its rigor and how much care they’ve given to apples-to-apples comparisons. A lot of that comes from Warren’s commitment.”

To be clear, creating a study on the scale that the US Smart City Rankings necessitates requires resources for primary research, travel, networking, data analysis and results dissemination. Thus, Common Current invites sponsorship from large smart city players, including Global 1000 brands such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, IBM, Cisco, Deloitte, Intel, GE, Audi, Google, Microsoft and others, including the financial services, real estate and insurance industries.

With any benchmarking a central issue is effectively defining the universe: besides the activities in the cities themselves, what are smart city categories, their components and services, and emerging trends? How can performance measures best be applied to discrete categories? These answers will provide valuable insights and data, perhaps even more valuable than the results of the overall smart cities ranking.

Most importantly, benchmarking US smart cities by defined categories will enable city and market participants to move forward with a clearer sense of thoroughness and standards by which to measure innovation as well as general progress. Just as 2007 was the right time for US cities to have a template by which to guide their leadership in the sustainable economy and world politics, 2017-2018 is the right time for US cities and their partners to embark upon becoming global forces in smart technologies, management and economics.

I hope you’ll agree about the need for US Smart City Rankings. Please send inquiries to me:

warren (at) commoncurrent.com

regarding the US Smart Cities Rankings, which will be under development through 2018.

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Post Carbon Reader Hits the Shelves

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The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises from Watershed Media and the University of California Press hit bookstores this week. The compendium of 35 experts explores how previously
unimaginable advances in health, wealth, and technology, fed an
explosion in population and consumption that came at an
incredible cost.

Climate change, peaking oil, freshwater depletion,
species extinction, and a host of economic and social problems now
challenge us as never before. Writers including Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, Sandra Postel, Wes Jackson and others (including myself), explore not only causes in the 523 pages, but lay out detailed “post-carbon” solutions, many which are inter-related.

According to Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute and founder of Worldwatch Institute, “For a comprehensive, integrated overview of the relationship between the human species and its planetary home circa 2010, look no further. The Post Carbon Reader is an invaluable primer, resource, and textbook. This is what you need to know–period.”

Most of the authors are Post Carbon Fellows at the Post Carbon Institute (PCI), which is based in Santa Rosa, California, where author and Senior PCI Fellow Richard Heinberg also lives.

PCI “fellowed” me early last year, when I began work on my contribution to the Reader, a chapter titled, “The Death of Sprawl: Designing Urban Resilience for the 21st Century Resource and Climate Crises.” (pdf) This chapter takes a look at how cheap oil and the financial industry created an unsustainable explosion of suburban and exurban sprawl, driving the US economy over a cliff with the still ongoing 2007-201? foreclosure crisis.

About 25 of 29 PCI fellows gathered for the first time together or participated electronically in a two-day event held in Berkeley, California earlier this year.

The results of the event included a forthcoming mission statement that
was co-authored by nine different subgroups. My group on cities also
consisted of Johns Hopkins professor Brian Schwartz, City University of New
York professor (and former New York City green building standard
originator) Hillary Brown, and transportation expert Anthony Perl,
author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.

We
contributed concepts around “bioregionally grounded human communities”
based on non-automotive transportation options, human-scaled
neighborhoods and regionally produced sustainable food and energy. 

Much like the Club of Rome’s 1972 treatise, The Limits to Growth, the work of PCI fellows now presents a publicly available collective analysis of where we are, where we are headed and what our options might be in terms of climate, biodiversity, economies, cities, food, energy, culture, population, health, education, transportation and developing better resilience.

Most importantly, thanks to editors Heinberg and Daniel Lerch, The Post Carbon Reader illustrates inter-relationships among these categories, instead of just providing a laundry list of issues and challenges.

I discovered, for instance, that the chapter I wrote was reinforced by Sandra Postel’s chapter on water, “Water, Adapting to a New Normal”, (pdf) where we both examined how solar thermal power plants in the desert Southwest require surprising amounts of water. Same with my chapter and chapters by Tom Whipple, “Peak Oil and the Great Recession”, David Fridley, “Nine Challenges of Alternative Energy”, and Dr. Peter Whybrow’s, “Dangerously Addictive: Why We are Biologically ill-suited to the Riches of Modern America.”

Kudos to PCI executive director Asher Miller and my old friend, Daniel Imhoff, publisher of Watershed Media, for pulling off what may be a milestone in post-Great Recession sustainability thinking, hopefully spurring others to action in order to bring us back into balance with our beleaguered natural world.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current,
an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of
a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management. 

   
 

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India cuts gas subsidy in favor of greener investments?

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Dehli Metro, Phase One

Is India trying to turn a corner toward more sustainable economic development with its recent reduction in fossil fuel subsidies?

India’s decision to completely cut gasoline subsidies last month has created national protests, as new unsubsidized gas prices rose to about $4.60 a gallon. The country has also reduced subsidies to natural gas, diesel and kerosene, all to balance a budget and reportedly redistribute money for economic development, including the planning of cities with more sustainable energy and transportation.

Gasoline will no longer be sold below cost by producers and retailers in India, as it had been until the late June announcement was made to end the subsidies, which have been cut $5.2 billion. That leaves the remaining government and state owned fuel companies subsidy spending at about $11.5 billion this fiscal year.

India has embarked on a program to develop new and greener cities, and to redesign existing cities for greater sustainability as its urban population swells in the wake of a national population that is forecast by the United Nations to surpass China’s population by 2030.

The nation is moving from its agrarian roots to a service-based economy that has been boosted by the rise of the companies in information technology, health care and other professional services.

Clean technology areas being investigated for large-scale implementation with urban development include infrastructure investments in PV solar, geothermal energy, and advanced wastewater treatment. A new metro rail system in Delhi that opened a major line earlier this year is now one of the world’s largest.

Indeed, India–like China–may be on a course to reinvent itself for the 21st century.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current,
an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute and author of How Green is Your City?: The SustainLane US City Rankings.
   

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Urban Sustainability Focus of Shanghai Expo

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Danish Pavilion, Shanghai Expo

Sure, the Shanghai World Expo might be the largest World Fair in history, with more than 70 million expected, the majority of visitors coming from China. With the theme of “Better City, Better Life,” the Expo will also be thick with urban sustainability related proceedings and exhibits during its May to October gestation.

Shanghai is officially China’s largest city, a metro area of more than 18 million that competes with the capital for national prominence (Beijing has an official metro population of 13 million). From Opium Wars and cunning “Green Gangs” (not those Greens!), Shanghai’s economy has emerged as the international polestar for service and information industries

Like other cities approaching 20 million, planning for global climate change and adaptation is of concern. Shanghai is examining how information and communications technologies (ICT) enable low-carbon management; Seoul, Amsterdam and San Francisco similarly have piloted “Connected Urban Development” projects designed by Cisco and MIT over the past few years, mostly in transportation demand management (broadband enabled work centers, handheld transit alerts).  

The Expo marks the first time that buzzing Shanghai, and thus China, has publicly focused so much attention on the issue of urban sustainability, in one venue. China’s urban population is expected to go from more than 600 million in 2009 to more than 1 billion by 2030.

Shanghai Expo Bureau events are orchestrated by China’s national leaders. The Bureau addresses climate change and low-carbon development through the exploration of applied information and communication technologies in the service of sustainability management. The event, referred to as the “Economic Olympics,” is a happening staged with great investment: $55 billion

During a soft launch period in April, officials examined how to make nearby Chongming Island into a low-carbon development. An Expo “ICT and Urban Development” forum earlier in May covered “social responsibilities” as they apply to smart + digital (IT-driven) urban areas.

IBM and Metropolis will be exploring ICT enabled urban management solutions as part of a “Smarter Cities” forum in Shanghai (loosely affiliated with the Expo) on June 2-3. Topics of consideration will include: energy and utilities, water, transportation, healthcare and public safety.  

The Climate Group, Metropolis and Cisco–in conjunction with the Shanghai Expo Bureau– jointly host Partnership for Urban Innovation (PDF) on June 17-18. The two day invite-only confab will cover “Urban Design and Networked Development,” “Sustainable Cities: Challenges and Solutions,” and “Smart and Connected Urban Mobility.”

San Francisco will highlight its urban best practices in sustainability on June 17-25 at the Expo. As a sister city of Shanghai, it is the only US city that Shanghai provided a week for a dedicated display (though Vancouver also boasts an Expo pavilion, also green themed). A delegation from the Bay Area including US Senator Dianne Feinstein and Fog City Mayor Gavin Newsom will be part of a Green Energy Seminar in June that will be broadcast throughout China on China Business Network TV. 

Forums on transportation, energy, waste management, water, health services and housing will occur throughout the Expo, leading to a green exit. A thematic week ending October 31, 2010, is devoted to sustainability management in megacities. The Expo finale will also consider the role of an ICT-enabled green economy as it simultaneously emerges in global markets, developing nation cities, and of course, Shanghai.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.

 

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Post Carbon Institute Uses Expert Network to Take on Climate, Energy and Community Challenges

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Tonight the Post Carbon Institute (PCI), a California-based think tank addressing sustainability issues associated with climate change, peaking resources and community resiliency, kicks off a three-day gathering with its Fellows (of which I am one) in Berkeley.

The Institute was founded in 2003, largely around the issue of peaking oil and energy supplies. Author Richard Heinberg (The Party’s Over, Peak Everything) was the group’s first Senior Fellow. Heinberg has been now joined by 28 other Fellows, and this is their first gathering.

From an initial focus on peaking energy resources and their potential impacts, PCI now addresses multiple areas and issues including climate change, consumption/ waste, communities, economies, ecology, education, energy, food/ agriculture, government, health, social justice, population, water, transportation.

Eighteen of those who are coming to Berkeley (five will join in remotely) to address how our government, society, communities and different industry sectors can prepare better for the system-based or “wicked problems” that climate change, peaking energy supplies and global recession present.

Participants will include:

  • David Orr (author and professor Oberlin College)
  • David Fridley (energy efficiency and renewables expert, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs)
  • Chris Martenson (“Crash Course” economist)
  • Josh Kaufmann (US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest Labs)
  • Michael Bomford (food and energy scientist, Kentucky University)
  • Sandra Postel (author, director Global Water Policy Project)
  • Tom Whipple (energy expert, former CIA analyst)
  • Zenobia Barlow (author, director Center for Ecoliteracy)
  • Bill Sheehan (consumption and waste expert, Product and Policy Institute)
  • Gloria Flora (public lands expert, director Sustainable Obtainable Solutions)
  • Erika Allen (urban agriculture expert, manager Growing Power)
  • Anthony Perl (author, transportation expert and professor, Simon Frazier University)
  • Hillary Brown (partner, New Civic Works, founder NYC Office Sustainable Design)
  • Stephanie Mills (author, bio-regionalism expert)
  • Wes Jackson (author, founder/ president The Land Institute)
  • William Ryerson (director Population Media Center)
  • Brian Schwartz (public health expert, professor Johns Hopkins University)
  • Bill Rees (community resilience expert, author, University British Columbia)
  • David Hughes (energy expert, geoscientist for Canadian Geological Survey)
  • Warren Karlenzig (urban expert, author, president Common Current)

Other participants that will join in remotely include authors Michael Shuman, Josh Farley, Bill McKibben and Richard Douthwaite, Transition Town movement originator Rob Hopkins; Johns Hopkins’ Cindy Parker.

Look for my report next week on the outcome of this historic gathering.

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New Report of Green Job Growth for California by Region and City

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Next10, a research organization in San Francisco, released last week an analysis of green job growth rates in California by sector and region, “Many Shades of Green”. Looks like Golden State green job growth has outpaced other job growth since the mid-1990s into 2008 and the great recession.

Overall job growth in California’s continuously expanding green sectors was 36% between 1995 and 2008, with traditional job growth at 13% over the same period. When the recession hit California in 2007, green jobs continued to grow into 2008 at a 5% pace while the rest of the job market actually decreased 1% in the state.

The nitty-gritty:

  • The statewide region for green job growth was the Sacramento area, with an 87% percent growth rate.
    Sacramento experienced the highest-level employment growth (157%) in air and
    environment jobs (2.5 x 1995 levels). Energy generation employment grew by 141%.

  • California’s total green job growth leader is the San Francisco Bay Area with 41,674 green jobs. Bay Area trends include the largest number of energy generation jobs
    (roughly 7,000). Energy generation grew by 20%, with the high concentration in
    solar.

  • In the San Joaquin Valley, total green job growth was 48% with the highest
    concentration of jobs in wind energy. Concentration in alternative fuels represent
    three times the state average. The number of jobs in green transportation grew 211%.

  • In the Los Angeles area, energy generation jobs
    grew by 35% and energy efficiency jobs grew by 77%. In Orange County green
    transportation jobs grew 1,875% including alternative fuels and motor vehicles
    and equipment. Energy generation jobs grew by 176%

  • According to Next 10, The Inland Empire’s energy generation jobs grew by 85% with the highest
    concentration in solar and wind. Energy efficiency jobs grew by 91%.

Next10 is focused on innovation arising from the intersection of environmental, economic and quality of life interests. The non-profit was founded by venture capitalist F. Noel Perry.
 

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute
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Copenhagen and the Imperative for Sustainable Cities in India

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Mumbai flooding after 2006 deluge

Leading up to President Obama welcoming India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first official State Dinner of his presidency at the White House, The Bay Area Council Economic Institute yesterday released its new report, “Global Reach: Emerging Ties Between the San Francisco Bay Area and India.”

At a release event in downtown San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, a panel addressed why, according to the Institute’s president R. Sean Randolph, “No place else in the nation comes close to the economic connections that the Bay Area has in India.”

The sheer numbers of Indians employed by Bay Area firms in such as Cisco, Visa and Semantec are a testament of India moving from a contractual model (think of the call centers in Slumdog Millionaire) to being a true strategic partner, because of its rich base of domestic and ex-pat engineering, management and venture capital talent.

With a fast-growing population of 200 to 300 million earning “disposable income,” Hewlett-Packard and other Silicon Valley product manufacturers have been fighting for market share throughout the South Asian nation. Economic growth may lift some from the slums, but experts worry about the capacity of India to grow so quickly without detrimental climate and other sustainability impacts.

Like China, it now looks like the cities of India–both existing and new–are on the verge of an unparalleled urban population boom.

Michel St. Pierre, Director of Planning and Urban Design from San Francisco-based architectural firm Gensler, was the sole panelist addressing the topic of
Indian urban sustainability of the five other software, biotech and venture capital firms represented at the event.

“By 2022, there will be a need for up to 500 new cities in India to accommodate the urban growth in the country,” St. Pierre said. “Reduced quality of life could greatly affect the success of the nation’s economy if growth is not planned and executed properly.”

St. Pierre said the biggest challenge is to address sustainability in all aspects, with cities such as Mumbai operating its current systems–including transportation, water, energy and environmental analysis–at full capacity and beyond. Then there is the emerging threat of global climate change, particularly flooding.

“The livibility and sustainability of cities like Mumbai and Delhi are critical to the success of the country,” he opined about the city of 14 million, the largest city proper in the world. St. Pierre quoted Prime Minister Singh: “If Mumbai fails, then India fails.”

St. Pierre compared India’s urban growth to that of China in its scale, yet contrasted it with its neighbor to the north in terms of governance. Because India is a democracy, versus China, which has a planned, centrally controlled economy, India cannot so easily create whole-scale national programs around Eco-Cities, which China is in the beginning stages of trying to roll out.

India’s advantage as a democracy is that it more likely to successfully enact public-private partnerships in such complex endeavors as the densification of its cities and in providing more mixed-use real estate with access to public transportation.

Most of India’s so-called Eco-cities projects have attempted to create more healthy and sanitary conditions in such areas as those in the Kerala state by reducing pollution in rivers and drinking water supplies.

Indian cities have also been global leaders in converting their dirty diesel bus fleets to compressed natural gas (CNG), which emits far less particulates and other deadly air pollutants than diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles. Some fleets are even being switched to dual-fuel supplies of CNG and hydrogen.

But so far, there has been less success in redesigning slum areas or other development to take advantage of new innovations in renewable energy, green building and advanced water-conserving technologies, let alone district flood-resistant planning.

And then there are the masses of people, buildings and infrastructure. Mumbai has only .03 percent open space, one of the lowest rates in the world, according to St. Pierre–compared to an average of 5-7 percent open space in US cities. The country also suffers from constant power outages, chronic water shortages, and systemically contaminated water.

With the advent of corporate-backed city-wide sustainability initiatives, including the “Connected Urban Development” program from Cisco (with its global headquarters for development now in Bangalore) and IBM’s Smarter Cities initiatives, India stands to become a fertile land for bringing software innovations into 21st century applications in planning and management of energy, water and transportation.

HP even has its own nascent “Sustainable Cities/ City 2.0” initiative, which is less defined at this point, but hinges upon the mother of all data centers as a massive brain behind Smart Grid, telepresence, intelligent buildings and metro transportation systems.

There is so much more to be launched that can harness the deeply educated pool of talent in India and California’s Silicon Valley, particularly in light of climate change.

All of this brings us back to Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Singh, and the coming of the Copenhagen climate summit, for which one major point of negotiations is the amount of funding available from developed nations for financing greenhouse gas reductions and climate adaptation in developing nations such as India.

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President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Singh at the G-20 summit.

Concluded Genler’s Michel St. Pierre, “India can lead the way worldwide for sustainability by addressing innovation just as it has done in software and all these other industries.”

Let’s hope that the buzz tonight at the State Dinner over the fresh veggies and herbs from Michelle Obama’s White House garden goes beyond the gossip of celebrities and at least touches on issues so critical to the future of India, the United States and the world at large. 

Warren Karlenzig is President of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability consultancy in San Anselmo, CA. He is author of How Green is Your Ci
ty? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute

 

   

 

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