The Building of Functioning Cities: Navigating the Smart City

Time-lapse photo of cars driving in Atlanta, GA at night. Shoes trailing tail lights and headlights with Atlanta in the background.

Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash

As cities become more densely populated, getting around them takes on a new sense of urgency. One of the big reasons cities are interested in smart city technology is to help solve transportation problems. In this article, we’ll look at three technologies that help residents navigate their cities and identify what the value is to them and to the real estate practitioner.

Smart street lights help the city save money, energy and reduce light pollution

Cities like Chicago, LA, Barcelona, and Amsterdam are employing new lighting strategies to cut down on light pollution, reduce energy usage, and better serve their citizens. One company working on this problem, Tvilight, has developed a solution that will brighten when there are people around at night and dim when there aren’t. Tvilight has several deployments in large and small communities throughout Europe. Their lighting allows for city administrators to remotely set levels for lights, understand evening traffic patterns, and save energy. In some cases, these lights have helped reduce maintenance costs by up to 60% as well. For the real estate practitioner, communities using these lights could become a selling point. Reduced light pollution, yet retaining a safely lit environment is something that anyone would love.

Intelligent stop lights can help clear congestion and reduce accidents

In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, adaptive signal control technology is helping improve traffic flows and reduce accidents in the city. The smart stop lights have dropped traffic congestion by 5-11%. This means fewer idling cars, saving fuel and money for drivers. Another benefit is the technology has reduced the number of accidents. Because the technology can adapt, it means less of drivers trying to outrun a light change. Sioux Falls has seen a reduction in accidents from 1 accident every three days average to 1 accident every four days average. Over time, that adds up due to all the emergency services required during these times. This data can also help inform commute times and give you a real time sense of congestion, or if there are any accidents in the area, so you can adapt your route wherever you’re going.

 

Smart parking systems can let you know if there’s a space available anywhere

One of the biggest challenges to living in a large metropolitan area is finding parking. I live in a neighborhood that used to have plentiful street parking, but now, we can drive around for 15-30 minutes trying to find a space. Libelium is a company helping cities connect with citizens by providing real time parking space data. Using magnets, sensors and cameras, Libelium relays real time information about parking spaces in a community and can reduce the amount of time you are spending looking for a space. They could also provide historical information that can help city planners think about the parking issues in their city. This data will be extremely valuable in real estate for some time to come.

As you can see from the article, cities large and small are employing these techniques. Smart city technology is not an all or nothing proposition. You don’t need to have a myriad of smart solutions added right away. Communities are employing solutions to help them solve immediate problems, then adding to those solutions. Are you seeing solutions like these in your communities? Let us know in the comments below.

The Building of Functioning Cities: A Smart Cities Series

There is a blurry cityscape in the background with the phrase 'The Building of Functioning Cities' overlaid. This is a line from preamble of the REALTOR Code of Ethics. We believe this statement reflects the potential impact of smart cities on our industry.

Smart cities will impact the way we live and work in the very near future. Real estate stands to benefit from the data produced in these cities with improved services for clients.

In the labs, I often point out to visitors that we’ve based our work on the preamble to the Code of Ethics. I’ve included it below with the relevant bits highlighted:

Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization. REALTORS® should recognize that the interests of the nation and its citizens require the highest and best use of the land and the widest distribution of land ownership. They require the creation of adequate housing, the building of functioning cities, the development of productive industries and farms, and the preservation of a healthful environment.

At CRT Labs, we use this to focus our mission. It’s not only key to your work, but also, to the potential that the Internet of Things, renewable energy, and community gardening have to impact your industry. In order to support the ‘building of functioning cities’ tenant, we’ve spoken to several smart city projects throughout the US. We believe that data from the smart city will go a long way to shaping how you do business in the future. It will change the way you interact with your customers and help you in supporting their buying choices. We are just at the very beginning of this and there’s still a way to go before this is mainstream, but what’s already happening is exciting.

What are smart cities?

Simply put, smart cities are cities that use existing data and connected sensors to:

  • Capture data and performance metrics to improve city services
  • Monitor city performance
  • Inform the general public

Cities great and small are employing smart city techniques all over the world. Singapore is one of the big leaders in this space, as is Barcelona. Here in the US, cities large and small have active programs. From Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky as examples. For this series, I want to use what’s in my own back yard. Chicago has garnered a lot of attention of late for its Array of Things initiative and the use of its open data portal to engage the citizens.

Why do they matter?

Here’s why it matters to you: there are massive amounts of data that will be coming off these devices that will show how specific areas of a city are performing. As examples, you’ll be able to see things like:

  • Pedestrian and vehicle patterns and counts aggregated by time of day
  • Utilization patterns for parks and community buildings
  • Temperature variation at your work and at your home on a block by block basis
  • Air quality outside your door and any destination you need to travel to
  • Average sunlight exposure at any location
  • Standing water after a rainstorm

A number of those things above are key to how you’re home or property performs. Understanding microclimates will help buildings use less energy because they can adjust based on time of day or season. We can also understand busy residential and commercial areas are and use that as part of our marketing material or a widget on a website. When are the peak hours at the community pool or park? Data for a community could also inform when you hold open houses. How many people are in a neighborhood during a given day?

This is just the surface. I’m going to use this series to interview people here in Chicago who are involved in the smart cities initiatives and highlight where there are opportunities for real estate. If you have a story about smart city activity in your area, I encourage you to share it.

Related Articles from CRT Labs:

Facebook Live Office Hours: Smart Cities

Interested in how the Internet of Things, and other technologies, are making the cities we live in smarter and better places to live? Chad gives a rundown on how tech is changing how we think of cities and communities during our Facebook Live Office Hours. As always, tune into our Facebook Live Office Hours by liking our Facebook Page, which will notify you when we go live on Fridays at 3PM Eastern!

Facebook Live Office Hours: Smart Cities from CRTLabs on Vimeo.