Building Smart Communities

Over half the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, and the United Nations has projected that by 2050 that number will rise to 70 percent. Given the rapid urbanization trend happening around the globe, coupled with shifting demographics and disruptive technological change, many countries have started planning the development of smart cities and communities: urban centers that use intelligent, connected devices and automated systems that maximize the allocation of resources and the efficiency of services.

On June 21-22, 2016, the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) held a meeting to explore the role of connectedness and sustainability in developing smart communities, the challenges and opportunities associated with the roll-out of intelligent systems, and the partnerships among governments, universities, and industry that are integral to these advances.

Building Smart Communities]

The keynote address on June 21 was given by Carlo Ratti, the director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, who explained some of the work underway at the lab. Ratti posited that in the 1990s people were fascinated by the digital world, and they thought that the physical world would become less important and that their lives would become increasingly virtual, to the point that in 1995 George Gilder, futurist, predicted the death of cities, which he called “leftover baggage from the industrial era.” “No prediction could have been more wrong,” said Ratti. “Cities have been thriving over the past few decades, and by 2030 there may be 5 billion people living in cities.”

“Digital has not killed physical space,” Ratti continued. “Instead, digital and physical are re-combining. The internet has entered physical space—becoming the Internet of Things (IoT).

Ratti provided an example: data reveals that for any two points in Manhattan, there are hundreds of thousands of car trips connecting them in the course of a year. Looking at shareability networks, his lab determined that ride-sharing could get everyone to their destination at the needed time, give or take a few seconds delay, while cutting the vehicle fleet by 40 percent. Although the paper describing the full results of the analysis just came out recently, the first results came out a few years ago and came to the attention of Uber, which then started its Uber Pool ride-sharing service. Every shared car suggests removing a car from the streets, which implies less congestion and fewer emissions.