Successful cities are investing in intelligent infrastructure, says Gordon Feller


Just as the Internet transformed our businesses and reshaped our personal lives, it’s now transforming our cities. Everything urban is now getting connected – from healthcare to education, government services, buildings, physical security systems and much more.

Cities embracing these emerging tools – let’s call them connected technologies – are the same cities that will be leading the future. These are the cities with a much better chance of becoming truly sustainable in three domains: environmental, social and economic.

Cities around the world already compete with one another for talent and capital. Urban community leaders are pressing for answers to tough city problems: overcrowding, pollution, budget and resource constraints, inadequate infrastructures and the need for continuing growth. Harnessing the power of technology has become one important means for addressing seemingly intractable problems. For those cities seeing some success with tech-powered initiatives, it’s become a new way of solving problems – and doing so from new angles, in ways that might not yet have been tried before.

The goal is to transform cities into “smart and connected” communities – but how, exactly? By using intelligent networking capabilities to weave together people, services, community assets and information into a single pervasive solution.

What we’re seeing around the globe in hundreds of cities is that a smart/connected city strategy acknowledges the essential role of the network as the platform to help transform physical communities to connected communities. It also encapsulates a new way of thinking about how communities are designed, built, managed, and renewed to achieve social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

The foundation for the city of the future will be the network and the information it carries, enabling the delivery of vital services from transportation utilities and security to entertainment, education, and healthcare. Everything will be connected, intelligent, and green: from office buildings and appliances to hospitals and schools. Citizens and businesses enjoy unprecedented levels of collaboration, productivity, and economic growth without compromising the environment. Managing and operating a smart/connected city means being efficient, coordinated, and secure.


Investing in advanced urban infrastructure has been underway for some time. It’s required the commitment of new dollars to build key city assets, such as wireless and wired networks. Meanwhile, environmental imperatives are real – to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by dramatically improving how we use of resources (oil and gas and water and electricity); to replace commute-to-work-to-compute (when you can computer and communicate from anywhere on any device); to reduce traffic congestion for those who do commute; etc.

Previous centuries saw industrial infrastructure such as rails, roads, and telephone lines paving the way for new cities and new connections. The 21st century is about urbanization based on information, with the digital network serving as the underlying platform. Today, urban infrastructure including homes, offices, cars, public transport, hospitals, schools, energy, and appliances are all getting connected via wired or wireless infrastructure to the Internet. The Internet has expanded into an “Internet of Things”, reaching well beyond traditional computers and mobile devices.

Successful cities are using their information/communications networks as a platform to plan, build, and manage day-to-day operations will gain significant new efficiencies in every aspect of community life: enhancing productivity among city employees, improving availability and access to public services, and creating new models to generate needed revenues.

During the 1980s, the Internet’s development and expansion was hampered by disparate networks unable to interoperate with one another. The multiprotocol router solved this problem by “translating” across networks, paving the way for the development of today’s all-encompassing Internet.

Today, urban centers are struggling with dozens (and, in some cases, hundreds) of different systems and protocols that do not interoperate. If these systems converge onto a single open-systems based network, significant opportunities for productivity, growth, and innovation are unleashed.


One compelling ‘city of the future‘ vision is a community that is run on networked information providing integrated services. Using intelligent networking capabilities, a smart city can achieve their goals when city leaders focus on creating smart/connected communities that bring together new public and private partnerships in a common purpose: sustaining economic growth, engaging people of all ages and abilities, solving ongoing environmental problems, building a stronger quality of life.

Making a city smart/connected requires working with city residents in a comprehensive way – from idea to execution. It means taking advantage of industry solutions built on the network as an open, integrated platform, a broad ecosystem of partners and innovative business models to change how communities are designed, built, managed, and renewed. A smart/connected community enables citizens, mayors, developers, urban planners and other community stakeholders to address the challenges and opportunities of an urbanized world. It drives economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Facilitating efficient delivery and management of services within a community is one key element of the process. This helps to deliver comprehensive services to residents and businesses in a connected community. It’s necessary because of enabling the management and operation of a connected community means share information and collaborate across a community’s ecosystem – government agencies and private sector partners.

The hard part will be transforming the city resident’s experience as they live, work, learn, and play. In a smart/connected community this become possible by leveraging real-time information and applications. With the network as the underlying service delivery platform, public and private partners deliver services for home, work, school, hospitals, malls, stadiums, travel, and government. And this is what drives economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

It’s more than technologically possible to achieve these lofty goals: efficient delivery of key citizen services – anytime, anywhere. One of the core responsibilities of governments is to protect and serve citizens. Whether it is crimes, fire, accidents, or natural disasters, every city has a unique mixture of safety concerns. Education, healthcare, and entertainment are a prime focus for the constituents of any community. Stringent budgets, limited resources or time, and handling vast amounts of data all make managing cities a mammoth task.

Imagine a government experience that is engaging, where you can access the information you need to live, work, play and learn in your community. Public safety and security are stable and government offices and community transportation systems are designed for citizens of all ages.

A smart/connected city government is more connected with constituents, plus it’s managing (and reducing) operational costs. City governments are tapping into technology that enables constituents to do new things, such as accessing real-time information whenever they need it.

Consider the commuter experience: Highly secure, intelligent, multimodal transportation systems are only possible when a city is making it possible real-time communications to enable collaboration – which means ensuring for such steps as safety and security organizations to connect with real-time data.


What are the ingredients for success? There are among the critical elements which we’ve seen in the most successful cities: build the foundation in ways that engage citizens of all ages and abilities; promote prosperity by attracting a new generation of employees; ensure public safety by connected disparate city assets. Government agencies are using technology to become connected, contain costs, and better serve the needs of an on-demand culture. They’re increasing the effectiveness of public safety, justice, and corrections agencies, improving workforce productivity and enhancing quality of life.

For this to happen there is one key ingredient which must be present: a foundational, open-architecture platform that enables an ecosystem of companies (local and otherwise) to create and deploy new smart services and applications to citizens as well as people that manage and operate the urban infrastructure.

What does that look like? These are some of the key characteristics:

1) It enables seamless integration with a multiplicity of software and hardware products

2) It’s based on extensible and open industry standards.

3) It provides an open framework for integrating third-party smart service and application offerings.

What’s the long-term vision here? Firstly, fostering social sustainability is a key goal for any smart/connected community. This means enabling citizens to enhance their quality of life and increase their standard of living by creating a healthy and interactive environment. Secondly, achieving economic sustainability means creating new job opportunities for citizens. As new businesses and key industries flourish, they help to drive economic growth. And last but not least, promoting environment sustainability means reducing the environmental impact caused by the improper management of resources that flow into and out of the city, especially waste streams. Futuristic city solutions are already here with us today and they can help to make big urban goals possible.


Gordon Feller is the Founder of Meeting of the Minds


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Ann Arbor Mobility Summit, 14 June, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Meeting of the Minds Annual Meeting, 27-29 November, Sacramento, California