There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges facing our cities or to the housing crisis, but the two issues need to be considered together. From an urban design and planning point of view, the well-connected open city is a powerful paradigm and an engine for integration and inclusivity.Richard Rogers
Taxes are going up. Service fees are increasing. Some days, it all seems to be a never-ending escalation for the costs associated with living in a city.
Yet, consider the alternatives. What if you had to pay out of pocket for all the infrastructure that you so richly enjoy in urban settings. What if you had to pay the full costs to secure fresh water? To dispose of your trash? To power your home? To supply the natural gas for your stove?
The costs for these services on an individual basis are astronomically expensive and the possibility to even access these resources may not even be possible at all. Maybe you have no natural gas where you live? It is normally piped into cities from far off locations, maybe even half way across the country. Water can be had from lakes, oceans, rivers, streams, and from wells, but even these sources of supply take huge efforts to harness. And then you must clean the water so it is safe, and then properly dispose of it as wastewater once used. To generator electricity can be incredibly difficult, unless you have a waterfall in your backyard or can harness the wind of the sun?
The point is, that most people take municipal infrastructure for granted and simply complain about costs without appreciating the tremendous value it delivers to all of the citizens in the community.
It is simply not practical, efficient, nor cost effective to source these basic resources independently. It is only by sharing the costs over a pool of users and over the span of time, can we all benefit from the value proposition.
Now, the municipal landscape is changing and a new paradigm is taking hold to define what is meant by municipal infrastructure.
Where we call home is changing too. People are leaving major municipalities and seeking smaller communities where they can enjoy a different quality of life and yet maintain the core infrastructure found in the major urban and suburban environments. But, can small towns and communities compete and deliver the next generation of core infrastructure resources to these digital nomads?
So, what makes a city an attractive place to live, work and play in the first place? In the past, it was largely the ‘network effect’ – masses of people, sharing services, assets, culture, and ideas in a dense web of interactions.
Now, however, it seems that the physical network effect of the city is co-mingling and integrating with digital network effects. And this is forcing cities to radically rethink their value proposition. While urban centers will continue to serve as hubs of economic activity, it is becoming clear that – in a ‘live, work, play’ society – the role played by central business districts (CBDs) is changing.
The need for some form of reinvention is looming. Nobody yet knows how long term social and work patterns will evolve. What is clear, however, is that people have become much more focused on their time, safety, and convenience. And that, enabled by digital technologies, has created very different needs and expectations.
When providing services such as recreation centres, cemeteries, golf courses, and entertainment venues, there is a persistent need to stay close to market forces in order to ensure performance and value to the constituents.
Cities and towns do not typically compete with private entities when it comes to providing essential services such as public works, utilities, police, and fire. However, a lack of competition does not mean municipalities can forgo the evaluation of these services. In fact, quantifying value and performance can help an organization better serve its constituents, which in turn supports a strong resident base and business community.
Now, with the advent of a diversified portfolio of digital infrastructure essential to living, working, and playing, there is a need to add in private enterprise to provision internet connections, rich media entertainment, and much more. Some communities have invested in services such as optical fibre connections, but it is hard for governments to effectively compete with private enterprise in this marketplace. Large carriers provide services to millions of customers so for a small town to do the same level of customer services is not viable due to the massive investment and sunk costs that cannot be shared over a large enough pool of users.
A modern city today is providing next generation services, such as:
- Open Data: the cities routinely releases non-personally identifiable data that can be used by anyone for any purpose through an Open Data license. Organizations collaborating with the City are also encouraged to provide data that can be shared through the Open Data Portal.
- Academic Partnerships: the cities regularly partners with universities and colleges to study outcomes.
- Digital Main Street: an initiative that helps small businesses adopt digital tools, such as e-commerce platforms and social media.
- The Green Market Acceleration Program: provides local firms and foreign investors with an opportunity to collaborate with the city in order to accelerate the development and commercialization of local green technologies.
- Economic Collaboration: the cities regularly shares information about its Digital Infrastructure projects, and works collaboratively with businesses through forums.
- Transportation Innovation Zone (in development): the cities examine proposed frameworks for, and designation of, transportation innovation zones for transportation technology trials proposed by third parties.
As well, cities need to ponder future investments in:
- A public-interest intellectual property policy, where the cities can create value for their residents, businesses and others by broadening access to innovation.
- Ensuring that Digital Infrastructure is fit for the purpose it was intended to serve, and not over-complicated or “technology for technology’s sake”.
- How to support local businesses while also ensuring that international trade agreements are respected.
- Developing a way to evaluate the environmental impact of energy-intensive advanced Digital Infrastructure, using existing and emerging technologies.
- Further approaches to support competition and incubation of municipal innovative organizations.
Being engaged in the smart city market is not free-of-charge and corresponding investments are extensive, while they usually concern innovation development and always demand careful planning. However, it is not precisely clear how the smart city creates value to its stakeholders or simply how profit is being created. Some of the values to the citizens are compelling, but how can this next generation form of infrastructure to funded and delivered in a responsible manner similar to the way that the core utility infrastructure of water, gas, and electricity was provided for over the past hundred years?
Huish, M. (2021). A Value Proposition for Local Government. Cityworks, A Trimble Company. Retrieved on June 3, 2021 from, https://www.cityworks.com/blog/a-value-proposition-for-local-government/
Unknown. (2021). Digital Infrastructure Plan. City of Toronto. Retrieved on June 3, 2021 from, https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/accountability-operations-customer-service/long-term-vision-plans-and-strategies/smart-cityto/digital-infrastructure-plan/
Unknown. (2021). Trend 2: Cities rethink their value proposition. KPMG International, Retrieved on June 3, 2021 from, https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2021/01/trend-2-cities-rethink-their-value-proposition.html
About the Author:
Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.