A vision of the future with smart, efficient, utopian, technology-empowered “smart cities” has gleamed on the horizon for years. The concept offers vague promises that all of a city’s infrastructure and operations will be connecting, communicating and automatically adjusting facilities and services to deliver ever higher levels of satisfaction and efficiency.
But when you try to get close to these fabled cities that boosters periodically declare with fanfare to be rising around the world, the visions tend to resolve into failed, stalled or lagging projects, or more likely, normal cities with incremental improvements to the technological support of existing services, rather than brand new, technologically integrated cities.
Although the smart cities magic has yet to materialize, a “smarter communities” movement is growing, and there is good work in it for construction.
“There are too many people claiming smart cities this and smart cities that … and not a lot of recordable examples,” admits Paul Doherty, president and CEO of The Digit Group, a development company specializing in smart city consulting in China, Southeast Asia, Australia, India, the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. “What we are witnessing and delivering are urban solutions that improve safety, security and quality of life,” he says, adding, “the operative word is ‘delivering.’ ”
“There are different definitions of smart cities projects, causing confusion of just what a smart city is …and isn’t,” Doherty says. Another factor is that many city-scale projects are still in the planning process. “In our case, we have two master plan/feasibility study greenfield cities on the boards, but we also have four district-scale smart city developments, and three transportation initiatives for existing cities. We call all of these smart cities solutions.”
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