Building the Smart City: Why Most Cities Are Interested but Few Are Ready
Fifty kilometres east of Tokyo, Panasonic built a model community. A 1,000 home neighbourhood where everything looks pretty normal but where everyday life is infused with technology that makes it one of the most sustainable and resilient places to live on this planet — truly a smart city.
Fujisawa is powered by a solar smart grid, which allows the neighbourhood to run off-grid for up to seven days, and the town’s carbon emissions are 70 per cent lower than the average community of its size. Every element in the town is multi-purpose and designed to endure even the most destructive natural disasters. The roof of the town’s community centre is a public space that sits above the tsunami flood line. And in the event of a natural disaster or loss of power, the park benches convert into barbecue grills to help feed the community. The entire town is a virtual gated community with blanket 24-7 video surveillance coverage, allowing children to play safely, while their parents watch from their smart phones.
The Fujisawa Model
As highlighted recently in the Toronto Star, Panasonic’s approach to smart city building starts with a pretty basic concept – know your audience. Panasonic is currently building a smart city from the ground up near Denver, Colo., called Peña Station Next, and the conversations that have happened in Denver are very similar to those happening in Canada and around the world right now. How much data collection is too much? Who controls it? And who gets access? These are all essential questions and they must not be afterthoughts of the planning process.
Fujisawa looks the way it does because it suits the needs and requirements of the people who live there. In comparison to North American culture, the residents of Fujisawa have a higher level of comfort with the role data collection plays in their day-to-day lives, and an understanding of what they get in return.
The beauty of Panasonic’s CityNOW approach is that it can be scaled, through consultation, to suit the needs of any community and various public/private partnership models.
Listening to Learn What Works
Most communities are interested in building smart cities, but few are actually ready. In most cases that’s because the work has not been done to make sure all stakeholders are aligned on the approach.
In Denver, Panasonic engaged in in-depth consultations and, as a result, is using a selection of all the available smart city technologies. That’s because some of the options just aren’t a fit with the municipality, the developers and the people who might want to live in this community.
But it doesn’t mean we’re not innovating to meet the needs of future residents. For example, Peña Station Next will be home to the first large-scale deployment of connected vehicles in the U.S. There is a never-ending need to communicate, but with that communication comes progress.
How Does This Relate to Toronto and the Canadian Market?
The thread that connects Fujisawa to Denver to Toronto is this: technology exists only to support design that puts people first.
As other Canadian communities begin to adopt smart technologies, it’s more important than ever that we bring all stakeholders together to work toward that goal. It sounds obvious and it may sound easy, but it’s extremely tough to get large, complex organizations within cities to define and then agree to pursue collective objectives that will only be successful if we work on them together — and then to keep everyone focused on that over quarters, years and election cycles.
That’s where the CityNOW initiative differentiates itself from competitors in the smart cities space. At Panasonic, we know that the first generation of smart city projects was about the technological breakthroughs. The next generation can and must be about the people and the process.