America's Smartest City

All Innovate How high-tech street lights will transform Downtown

Is San Diego a smart city?

Apparently, it is, if the 2018 IDC Smart Cities North America Awards competition has anything to say about it. San Diego was one of two winners (along with Spokane) in the Sustainable Infrastructure category for its installation of IoT (Internet of Things) sensors on city street lights.

This accomplishment marks the city as a leader in technological innovation that will undoubtedly (and perhaps is already doing so) transform people’s daily lived experiences and interactions with the environment.

What has this looked like to date? In San Diego, smart cities innovation has taken the form of unique public-private partnerships. Entities like CleanTech San Diego, the City of San Diego, SDG&E, General Electric, and UC San Diego have collaborated to “improve the region’s energy independence, empower consumers to use electric vehicles, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and encourage economic growth,” according to the City’s website.

Already, San Diego replaced 3,000 street lights with more energy efficient LED bulbs, implemented electric vehicle charging stations at Balboa Park (San Diego has one of the highest adoption rates of electric vehicles, according to a National Geographic documentary), and updated the Port’s land and systems for energy efficiency.

As far as the competition goes, what’s the big deal about installing sensors on the streets?In the simplest terms, they can track all kinds of data – traffic flows, light, sound, air pollution, air pollution, and more. They can also be widely installed for comparison purposes. The goal here is to collect and track data that can be used for environmental and safety improvements. Knowing what’s happening on the ground can, in theory, lead to improvements in parking, pedestrian safety, emergency response, and general quality of life.

If this all sounds a bit esoteric, that’s because it is. What cities like San Diego and others have accomplished and continue to develop is the stuff of science fiction novels. But it won’t remain esoteric for long. Whether you think it’s eerily Orwellian or an exciting leap into the future, it’s happening. The next question is, where does it go from here?

In a National Geographic documentary entitled “World’s Smart Cities” that featured San Diego, local architect Rob Quigley said “the idea of community isn’t old fashioned – it’s timeless.”

The point if a smart city isn’t (just) to prove the technological prowess of what has long been known as a relaxed surfer town. The point of these innovations is to enhance the quality of life for individual San Diegans and for the city and region as a holistic community. This is done by implementing both creative and sustainable solutions that benefit the city in the long run, as well as developing strategies from collected data that benefit the community now.

The point of these innovations is to enhance the quality of life for individual San Diegans and for the city and region as a holistic community.

Andy White, who works in Startup Operations at Keshif Ventures, says now that the foundational technology has been implemented, the task ahead is in turning data into something that’s actionable – into something that actually impacts the community the data is collected from.

And that “something” can look a number of different ways. Inside the collection of data is a variety of potential societal and environmental problems – problems that can be addressed by established San Diego entities with the experience and resources to tackle big challenges. And problems that inquisitive minds with a hankering to start something new can uniquely solve.

San Diego has already become a hub for entrepreneurs with big dreams. The knowledge that comes from smart city technology has the ability to not only generate new startups but bolster the existing infrastructure and community. The benefits of this to the community are countless.

According to Danny Reeves, founder and President of Juniper Strategic Adivsory, we’ll start seeing these actionable items playing out in the burgeoning development happening Downtown. Soon, you might see residential units with the smart technology to know you’re walking in the door or to take your temperature and adjust your unit’s thermometer accordingly. Overall, smart city technology has the capacity to help produce energy efficiency and cost savings.

From there it’s a short leap, Reeves says, to connect building technology to the city’s infrastructure. Right now, sharing and connectivity between smart entities is limited.  However, with a rapidly changing technology ecosystem that renders today’s cutting-edge innovation obsolete in ten years, sharing and collaboration is vital to safely and effectively take advantage of the new information that is generated from technology like sensors.

San Diego has what it takes to remain America’s Finest City, but only by leading the way as one of America’s smartest cities for the benefit of the community.

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