Solving Cities

Welcome to the high-tech urban revolution

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If you're a tech company, this is your last call to board the smart city brandwagon, because the high-tech revolution for global cities is upon us. And it's a good thing for cities and businesses.

If you're a tech company, this is your last call to board the smart city brandwagon, because the high-tech revolution for global cities is upon us. (Shoot, they're already ranking the best "smart city brands")

And it's a good thing for cities and businesses, so says columnist Neal Peirce:

A group of high technology firms, led by IBM and Cisco, are plunging into the city management business. In varied forms, they offer super-efficient new-generation computerized information and control systems.

If the systems prove out — and first signs are positive — the companies stand to garner billions of dollars in business. But savings for cities, measured by dollars, by livability, by human lives protected, may be far greater.

Peirce points to a couple of specific examples where IBM is making this happen. First, in Memphis, IBM worked with the city to develop their new "Real Time Crime Center” to help pinpoint crime hotspots in a city on a limited budget and with limited resources.

The other, which Peirce calls IBM's "most exciting current project," is in Rio de Janeiro. The city has been dealing with serious natural disasters, and IBM assisted the city with commuting tools to help predict storms and quickly respond to emergencies.

So when did IBM begin looking to smart cities as a business venture?

IBM’s urban initiatives, explains Gerard Mooney, now the company’s general manager for Global Smarter Cities, began six years ago as the computer giant looked to future business opportunities. Thousands of IBM employees took part in a 72-hour “Innovation Jam” to pinpoint promising target areas. Topping their list: smarter utilities, water systems, public safety and transportation.

And where were most of those issues focused? Yes, it was cities — the fast-growing, economic engines of our time.

And many other companies are looking for their niche in the smart city market:

IBM’s specialty is analysis of vast amounts of data, integrating multiple software systems to enable “smart” city management. Cisco, by contrast, has clear software interests but focuses more on supplying cities with the actual instrumentation — the technology building blocks for increasingly “wired,” sensor-rich cities. In one form or another, such multinational firms as Siemens, ARUP, AECOM and Philips aim to develop their own niches — and already work on occasion with IBM and Cisco on this new technology frontier. All recognize the steps taken so far are in the infant stages of what integrated solutions development may eventually be.

Both cities and businesses stand to benefit, as cities look to make more with limited resources and the smart cities technology field is expected to blossom into a $39.5 billion/year industry by 2016.

Photo: luizfilipe/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure