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.

Share

Preparing for 2014-15 “Oil Crunch” Forecast by UK Industry Group

peakOilTruck.jpg

A new report by a United Kingdom industry taskforce predicts steep oil price rises and gasoline supply shortages by 2014-2015, which will put the global economy at similar risk to the 2007-2008 rapid rise in oil prices that helped trigger the Great Recession.

“The time period would be 2014-2015 when the oil market would be starting to experience rapidly rising prices and tightening oil supplies…It is notable that the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, is already warning of such an outcome in the 2014/15 period,” says the report, “Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security,” funded by Virgin Group, Arup Engineering, Foster and Partners, and Scottish and Southern Engineering.

What can cities, businesses and individuals do to prepare for such energy price volatility, buy hybrids? Actually, the report asserts, “there is real danger that the focus on technological advances in cars is making consumers and government complacent.”

More urgent steps need to be taken by policymakers in particular to avert this impending crisis:

  • Support greater planning and funding for public transit, including taxation to benefit public transit and allocate road space based on most fuel efficient modes (i.e., congestion pricing).
  • Support planning for less energy-intensive forms of development (less sprawl, more transit-oriented housing, retail and businesses).
  • Transition to more energy-efficient transportation fleets or vehicles.
  • Coordinate policy mechanisms and organizational practices to create a behavioral shift from private car use to other more sustainable forms of mobility, including public transit, car sharing, cycling and walking.
  • Encourage, enable and practice smart green city tactics: telecommuting, video conferencing and public work centers, such as those being piloted in Amsterdam with Cisco.

At the state and national government level, preparations for another “oil crunch” similar or worse than 2008 and 1980 should include: 

  • Ending subsidies for oil in order to reduce economic dependence on oil-based industries.
  • Transition agriculture and food production from operations highly dependent on the use of oil-based products such as diesel fuel, fertilizers and crop treatments, while encouraging bio-regional food production from urban foodsheds for nearby population centers. 
  • Planning and support for high-speed rail networks (though this would be a longer-term preparation for post-carbon transportation era beyond 2020)

Daniel Lerch of the Post Carbon Institute authored a guidebook for cities and local government on how to prepare for an oil crisis. I have also written a study looking at US oil crisis readiness in the largest 50 US cities, “Major US City Post-Oil Preparedness Ranking” (second publication from top).

Whether, it is called “peaking oil” or an “oil crunch,” many experts
see total global oil production reaching a plateau of around 91-92 million
barrels a day by 2012-2014 unless, as the report says, “some unforeseen
giant, and easily accessible, finds are reported very soon.”

With fast-growing demand for oil in developing economies such as China
(which overtook the US in 2009 for total automobile sales), India and
the Middle East, developed nations in North America and Europe need to consider wholescale industrial and societal shifts.

The United State and Canada in particular should start reducing oil dependency now in preparation for oil price volatility and possible supply disruptions that would force such shifts without warning, with dire consequences for the economy, nationally and locally. Many cities (New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, D.C.) are already somewhat prepared to make this shift because of infrastructure for public transit and other oil-free mobility options.

The world is heavily dependent on 120 oil fields that account for 50
percent of world production, and contain two-thirds of remaining
reserves of fields in production. New discoveries of oil fields off
Brazil’s coast, under the Arctic and elsewhere, will not be enough to replenish the
“drawdown” that is occurring. Besides, many of these fields take investments
that require oil to be priced over $100 or $120 a barrel, so they will not be
producing for a number of years after such investments are made: in other words, far beyond 2015.

“The challenge is that if oil prices reach the levels necessary to justify these high-cost investments, economic growth may be imperiled,” says the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Another so-called energy “ace in the hole,” oil sands deposits in
Canada, are not a viable option. Oil sands produce at least three times
the amount of atmospheric carbon over conventional oil when they are
processed and used, which would exacerbate global climate change
significantly, while also fouling the region’s water supply.

What is being raised by this report is that the era of cheap oil is over, and that the consequences will be ugly, unless we start preparing for this profound change.

“Don’t let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did,” said Virgin CEO Richard Branson and other corporate executives in the introduction to the report

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
.

    

Share