The Future of Smart Cities: Six mayors take the stage

Ever-expanding urban growth is making cities the proving ground for technologies that promise to reshape daily life. Mayors of six American cities – Charlotte, NC; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Nashville, TN; New Bedford, MA; and Washington, DC – as well as two members of congress joined Bloomberg LIVE recently to explore what that means for infrastructure, digital connection and sustainability.

The Future of Smart Cities: Spotlight on Infrastructure convened local government leaders from around the country on May 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. Photo: James Berglie for Bloomberg

The Future of Smart Cities gathering continued a forward-thinking program series sponsored by Siemens, a global leader in automation and digitization. Siemens USA CEO Judy Marks welcomed the group, offering a look at how cities are already using technology to create positive change.

For example, using real-time data rather than historical data to determine when traffic patterns need to change has improved travel times in one city; introducing automation in commercial buildings has both reduced greenhouse gas emissions and created jobs in another.

Highlights from the breakfast provide a similarly exciting look at intelligent solutions that may soon be coming to a municipality near you:

Working to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure policy

Bloomberg Television and Radio anchor David Gura talks with US Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) and US Senator John Hoeven (R-ND). Photo: James Berglie for Bloomberg

“Fixing a pothole has no party affiliation,” said Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), the Vice Ranking Member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In fact, the need to improve infrastructure is one topic on which there is the broad bipartisan agreement.

“Given that the 21st century runs on information, we need to include ‘info-structure,’” Representative Esty said. “You can’t run a 21st century economy on mid-20th century infrastructure.”

Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, agreed, adding that the best results often come when localities set priorities. “Every state knows they have real issues,” he said, “and they can do the best job of prioritizing those issues.”

Building a smart city

Mayors representing small, medium and large cities discuss transforming their communities into the cities of the future at the Future of Smart Cities: Focus on Infrastructure. Photo: James Berglie for Bloomberg

“Denver is seeing 1,000 new residents per month,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock, and the other cities represented at the event are on a similar pace. With 62% of the US population now living in cities, that across-the-board growth isn’t surprising – but it does put into perspective the challenges faced by cities large and small in meeting the needs of all residents.

“A vision for a smart city means you’re not leaving any community behind,” said Nashville Mayor Megan Barry. That means more than conveniences like finding city services online, however welcome that may be. “It’s about access to transit, jobs, education, housing,” she said.

“Mobility is the great equalizer of the 21st century,” added Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther. “Offering safe, reliable transit to job opportunities opens up ladders of opportunity.”

Use your assets

The Mayors Forum. From left: Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock; Nashville Mayor Megan Barry; Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts; Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther; New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell; Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. Photo: James Berglie for Bloomberg

In Charlotte, Mayor Jennifer Roberts said, “we connected 61 different buildings – public, private, academic. With real-time information, the building managers were able to reduce energy usage 19%, saving $26 million in utilities costs.” That program has now become a model that other cities – both in the United States and beyond – are following.

Energy efficiency has also been important in New Bedford, Massachusetts – the largest commercial fishing port in America. There, Mayor Jon Mitchell looks for cost savings through increased energy efficiency. “We’ve tried to make the most of our assets,” he said. “We took a superfund site and turned it into a solar farm that’s powering 2,000 homes.”

Dollars and data

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks while Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell respond. Photo: James Berglie for Bloomberg

“It’s about dollars and data,” said Nashville’s Mayor Barry. “You have finite dollars – and the data helps you drive where you’re going to make those critical investments.”  

For example, in Denver, Mayor Hancock said, “we produced a map that shows the city’s most vulnerable children at any given time.” That helps the city align planning to the greatest need.

In Washington, DC, a new open data policy allows citizens and businesses to help devise solutions. And data can play another key role, according to the city’s Mayor Muriel Bowser: “there’s an inertia in government that’s hard to overcome,” she said, but data can “help demonstrate the need to change, to change a bureaucracy that’s used to doing things the same way.”

Read Next:
The Future of Infrastructure: Spotlight on Oil & Gas
The Future of Transportation: Building for the Next Generation

– Jen Robinson 
May 24, 2017