Why smart cities are more than just tech.


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Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series that Line Fifty is publishing in advance of Smart City Expo USA, which will be held September 14th and 15th in Miami Beach, Florida. More than 100 speakers and several thousand participants are expected. Way Fifty is a media partner and will cover the event. More information about the expo It can be found here. Other articles in the series It can be found here. Thanks for reading!

From optimizing school bus routes using machine learning to testing new ways to collect data on air quality, Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has worked on a variety of projects. The organization’s mission is to find ways in which modern technology can benefit cities and their residents. Karen Lightman joined Metro 21 in 2017 and is now the Executive Director. In the year Established in 2015, the institute serves as an intermediary between local government and nonprofit partners who identify problems they want to solve and faculty researchers who want to test their work in the real world.

Route fifty He spoke with Lightman about the problems that smart cities technology can solve and how important equity is in those projects. This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

What are some of the projects you’ve particularly enjoyed working on under Metro21?

[A] The project I am most excited about is the deployment of what we call our Smart Park. We are very aware of the fact that people are very wary of tracking cameras or sensors. And so we have junior faculty. [member] Named after Catherine Flannigan, she is amazing at engineering. And she designed a solar-powered motion sensor that measures the size of objects in space. And it’s limited in time, so you know when it was [there and] How much time he spent there.

Like Dr. Jekyll, we deployed Mr. Hyde Park in one of our city parks in the city of Pittsburgh. Courts and tennis bubble and baseball field. And then across this main street there’s an herb garden, and there’s a dog park, and they have brunch on Sundays, and they play an orchestra. It’s like a completely different experience.

And one of the mandates of the city of Pittsburgh and its partner organization, the nonprofit Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, is to make parks more equitable and ensure that any park improvements are done fairly.

But to make those investments, they need to understand how the park will be used. Well, how? If you do a survey, well, who’s answering the survey? Like rich white people or people with a lot of free time. And so if you’re trying to be more fair, that’s not your demographic.

So this is a tool to help inform infrastructure improvements. And our plan is to help the city and the parks department better understand how the park is used, used, and when.

If you do this without this sensor, you will actually be more [reliant on anecdotes]. You have to hire someone 24/7, or you have to have a camera, and no one wants it. So this is a great experience to understand how the park space is used.

Has the meaning of “smart city” changed over time?

It has changed. My background is in the field of microelectronics and semiconductors as well as the Internet of Things. I know we can put sensors everywhere. Does it make sense? Does it make economic sense? Does environmental sustainability make sense? That’s my evolution, and understanding that, maybe just because you can put sensors and cameras everywhere – get it? Is it the correct usage? And what is the problem you want to solve?

And then with the killing of George Floyd [in] The summer of 2020. That was a critical time for me, because the mistrust of power, the mistrust in our society, and the racism in our society were issues that we had to address. You can’t just stay in your lane.

We were working on a project with the Pittsburgh Police, and we learned a lot of lessons that summer. And now we have a thoughtful and intentional lens on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the projects we do.

Do you think the buzz around smart cities has died down in the last several years?

I think it has changed. I don’t think it’s flattering anymore. I’m excited to see what it’s like in Miami [at the Smart City Expo in September]. I think there will be a lot of energy, but a little more cynicism. But there is still plenty of opportunity. So I hope it becomes a more intelligent, thoughtful, discussion. Hopefully, more inclusive, not just ‘Oh, look at that shiny, bright technology. That sounds interesting.’


I think the private sector is upset, ‘So why aren’t cities paying for this?’ Because they think so. Cities are strapped for cash, with other pressing issues to deal with. So yes, it is an important issue. But there should be another funding method that does not rely only on the public sector.

And then, it should be fair. So smart cities shouldn’t just be rich, affluent communities taking advantage of tech, because then that would create more division in our society.

What problems can smart cities solve?

Transportation, equity and mobility are still really important challenges to tackle. The relationship between where jobs are and where people live remains a problem.

Water – too much water and not enough water – I think that’s what most of America is dealing with right now. Climate issues, I think, are really important. And these are not sexual, are they? But when they are wrong, they are very wrong. And people die, like [in] The floods we have seen where people die.

and infrastructure. Less than a mile from my house, the bridge at my favorite park, where I walk almost every day and walk my dog, was freezing cold on a January morning. And, and in quote, unquote, considered in poor condition. But we have an alarming number of bridges in poor condition. So those basic maintenance, infrastructure things.

And I know there are companies out of Carnegie Mellon that are helping with that infrastructure maintenance and tracking and fixing climate related issues and intelligent transportation and mobility issues.

Legislation such as the America’s Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act have made billions of dollars available for infrastructure projects. If communities are working to become smart cities, what advice would you share?

Work with a university. I’m part of the Metrolab network, that’s a national network of about 35 universities that collaborate with communities at the city or county or municipal level. That’s a great resource, because everyone thinks what you’re doing is unique. But frankly, we could have a lot to learn from each other.

If the mayor and city council people are paying attention: What are the real problems we’re trying to solve? I think partnering with the university will help them tease this out.

Here we do a project called Scopethon, which we do with our partners here at Carnegie Mellon to help our nonprofit and municipal partners identify the problem. Not always as you think. Sometimes what you see is the effect as opposed to the cause.

[And] Keep an open mind. I am now entering the proposal process with the National Science Foundation. And you know, I mean things like diversity, equity, inclusion, access—that’s a thread throughout, it’s not an afterthought. It’s a must, not a possibility. And it should be intentional throughout.


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