Leading the Way Toward Truly “Smart” Communities

By Mr. Michael Sanderson P.E., PTOE, LEED AP posted 06-04-2018 04:57 PM


If something is smart, it’s generally a good thing. As in, “Wow, she sure is smart!” Or, “Man, that guy is a smart dresser.” If a city then is branded as a “smart” community, that should be a good thing. And, as envisioned by many, I think Smart Communities can indeed be a good thing.

The ideal Smart Community is one that will leverage big data, analytics, and technology to make our cities more livable. It’s a worthy aspiration. However, to realize that goal we will need more than cool technology. We will need planners and engineers to plan and design the technology and infrastructure for Smart Communities with a people-centered approach. That’s not necessarily a given, and ITE members can lead the way.

Sometimes, when the pace of technology development driven by entrepreneurs and capital markets gets in front of good planning and policy, there can be unintended consequences. Seriously, have you seen Blade Runner? So, if we want to achieve our highest aspirations for Smart Communities, we will need to plan and design them with forethought to ensure that technology is used in service to people- centered goals, and not just implemented because the technology exists.

Undoubtedly, we are awash in data. Everything is wired with sensors, and this so-called Internet of Things is generating mountains of information. Much of it is probably useful. The trick will be compiling it all in a useful way, and then making sense of it. Many parties will need to cooperate to make it all work. Agencies who own the infrastructure and manufacturers developing the often- proprietary technologies will all need to come together to share information and data and to allow their technology to talk to one another. Then we can leverage these vast information sources for everyone’s benefit, and ITE and its members are in a unique position to facilitate this collaboration.

While not specifically a Smart Communities technology, connected and automated vehicles (CV/AV) are very much related and face many of the same complications. If the technology developers and OEM manufacturers continue to develop and deploy CV/AV technology at the current breakneck pace, with good community planning and public policy playing catch-up, we can expect more situations where individual safety and health and community livability are compromised.

These are important questions to answer: Is the rapid advancement of technology and big data applications pushing the movement toward Smart Communities? Or, alternatively, is the desire to create more livable, people-centered cities driving the use of data and the development of technology in order to advance our livability goals? It is an important distinction, and we must make sure it’s the latter.

Technology alone doesn’t make something smart, and the technology itself can’t be the goal. Gadgets and the gizmos aren’t the goal. They are the tools. The goal must be communities that are livable, safe, and healthy. As transportation professionals and ITE members, if we put people first in our thinking and at the center of our designs, then Smart Communities will help us achieve livable, healthy communities where Vision Zero is possible.

ITE’s Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSM&O) Council, Smart Communities Task Force, and CV/AV Steering Committee are all working hard to develop standards and best practices; this month’s ITE Journal highlights some of their current efforts and suggests ways we all can get involved. Join them in Leading the Way on Smart Communities.

Taken from the June 2018 issue of ITE Journal.