How municipalities can bring their smart city visions to life

Besides identifying how advanced technologies work together for a safer, more comfortable and efficient urban environment, city leaders must also understand the funding mechanisms that can support smart technology investments.

Today’s cities are turning to smart, connected technologies to improve environmental, financial and social aspects of residents'  lives. In fact, nearly one-third of city leaders said they have a smart city strategy either under discussion or in the preparation phase, according to Johnson Controls second annual Smart Cities Indicator Survey. These smart city investments, including the implementation of LED street lighting and smart public safety solutions, are being driven by a number of factors, including economic development, environmental issues and sustainability. Unfortunately, as the same survey found, plans often get disrupted due to a lack of funding, city leadership or government support.

To achieve their goals, city leaders should first identify areas they would like to improve and what existing technologies the city has in place. From there, they can focus on desired outcomes -- whether it's energy efficiency, reduced crime or money savings -- to determine which investments and infrastructure upgrades will help make their smart city objectives more attainable.

Identifying intelligent infrastructure upgrades

It’s important for city leaders to understand that they don’t need to start from scratch when planning a smart city. Existing infrastructure and technologies can be the foundation for more intelligent upgrades and installations. Take street lighting for example. The core purpose of street lights is to brighten areas and make it safer for pedestrians and drivers at night. When updated to LEDs and integrated with other technologies, the lights' capabilities can extend far beyond improved visibility.

Cities can use the existing street lighting infrastructure for smart applications. Sensors, water meters, video surveillance and audio speakers are a few examples of non-lighting applications that can be connected to street lights to improve the quality of life. Through the integration of sensors, street lighting gains the ability to pinpoint outages, detect poor air quality and measure nearby water levels. In the event of a flood, for example, the sensors can trigger the lights to alert residents of hazardous conditions. Furthermore, adding cameras onto street lights can assist city officials in criminal investigations or even monitor trash and recycling collection. All of these capabilities can help municipalities reduce costs, improve overall energy and operational efficiencies, and enhance community life.

It’s no surprise that the survey also found that 78% of cities are in the execution phase of implementing connected, smart street lighting.

As they start on the smart city journey, city leaders must evaluate the capabilities of their existing infrastructure and identify where improvements would provide the most benefit. Understanding how advanced technologies can work together to create a safer, more comfortable and efficient city will help city leaders in the long run. Equally important, leaders must educate themselves on the funding mechanisms available to support smart technology investments.

Funding options to consider along the smart journey

Among the barriers to investing in smart city applications, survey respondents cited the unavailability of appropriate financing options as the No. 1 hurdle. Though many city leaders are quick to think more intelligent installations are out of reach due to budget restraints, they might be surprised to learn about the unique funding options that can address their specific needs:

  • State/federal: Funding from state or federal government programs is one of the most popular methods for financing smart city projects, according to the survey. With this approach, the government provides a city with resources, usually in the form of money, to help fund smart city development.
  • Public-private partnership: An alternative delivery method for new renovations or facilities a P3 puts the responsibility for the financing as well as the design, construction, energy efficiency and ongoing operations on a private consortium.
  • Performance contracts: Energy and operational savings over a specified time period are used to fund infrastructure improvements through a financial arrangement provided by a third party.

Evansville, Ind., took advantage of a performance contract to start its journey to a smart city. It is taking steps to address aging infrastructure, enhance sustainability, reduce operating and maintenance costs, and improve service to its taxpayers. The initiatives, known as Evansville Smart City 2.0, are being funded through an  energy savings performance contract. The upgrades, which include the implementation of smart technologies – including energy-efficient lighting, HVAC, controls and power-factor correction at the city’s wastewater treatment plant -- are helping Evansville achieve smart city success.

As city leaders look to implement technologies that contribute to a smarter, more efficient and sustainable community, it’s important they develop a strategic plan that clearly communicates their vision and explores the funding methods available. Without taking these initial steps, creating a smart, connected community will be a challenge. Armed with the right knowledge and partners, smart city success is attainable.

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