President Obama, speaking last month at a $1 billion tunnel construction project at the busy Port of Miami, called for increased investment in the nation's infrastructure. The project promises not only to unclog Miami's streets, but to make room for future development downtown.
"You ask any CEO where would they rather locate their business and hire new workers," Obama said. "Are you going to set up shop in a country that's got raggedy roads, runways that are potholed and backed-up supply chains? Or are you going to seek out high-speed rail, Internet, high-tech schools, new state-of-the-art power grids, new bridges, new tunnels, new ports that help you ship products made in America to the rest of the world as fast as possible?"
The answer is obvious, and mayors, civic planners, business leaders and technologists across the U.S. are taking steps to transform their cities into sustainable, technology-ready urban centers -- so-called smart cities -- that aren't just good for business but also are great places to live.
Miami is one example. In addition to the big dig at the Port of Miami, where a 3,900-foot tunnel will connect the shipping port with roads on the mainland, the city and surrounding Miami-Dade County are using analytics systems to analyze water usage, police reports and traffic flow. The city's managers "kept hearing about smarter cities, smarter communities, and they started looking at the landscape of what was available and what they could be used for," says Angel Petisco, CIO of Miami-Dade.
Most places are still in the early stages of planning and implementation. Only 7% of the 198 municipal government IT pros surveyed by InformationWeek Government rated their city strategy for investing in IT as progressive and well conceived when it comes to providing better public services more efficiently. A much bigger group, 48%, considers their cities' strategies to be well planned in some areas but not all. A quarter rated their cities' plans generally poor.
InformationWeek Government's Future Cities Survey, conducted in October, reveals that municipal IT pros see many potential benefits of more effective IT planning and execution. Topping the list are more efficient public services, mentioned by 66% of respondents; improved municipal infrastructure (44%); lower municipal costs (44%); and better quality of life for city residents (36%).
In what ways can Future Cities projects lead to better quality of life for the citizenry? Consider smart grids. Not only are smart electric meters more efficient, resulting in lower bills, but they let utility providers restore services more quickly when big storms knock out power to entire areas, says John McDonald, director of technical strategy and policy development with GE Digital Energy.