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Are We Ready to be “Smart”?

By Janet Koch, Community Development

What, exactly, is a smart city? Though there’s no definitive answer, there seems to be general agreement that the goal of a smart city isn’t to add technology for the sake of adding technology; rather, it’s to improve the lives of the people who live and work in a community. In a fully connected smart city, street lights will detect vacant parking spaces and communicate their availability, vehicles will transmit the location of potholes to a repair crew, and first responders will be able to communicate road closures to oncoming traffic.

But in some ways, smart cities are already here. An example? Water meters in most towns are read electronically. And any vehicle that has an automatic transmission, cruise control, or anti-lock brakes are part of the changes leading to smart cities. Additionally, the American Center for Mobility, in Ypsilanti Township, is now open and is expected to be a global hub for connected technologies.

Sharp-eyed readers will be noting that autonomous vehicles, or AVs, are a big part of the smart city conversation. Some market forecasters are predicting that AVs will be available to the general public in less than 5 years with widespread use by 2030—which seems like the distant future until you do the math and realize that’s only 12 years from now!

At a recent Smart City conference, I asked a panel what small communities could do to prepare for a connected future. Dr. Jim Sayer, director of University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, recommended having conversations with similar-sized towns that are already shifting to become smart cities, adding that there is a great willingness to share information and experiences. The response of Eugene Grant, mayor of Seat Pleasant, Maryland, was “Shoot for the moon!” He went on to say that if a community is Ieft behind, “you’re going to get even more behind.” Craig Hupy, Public Service Area Administrator for the City of Ann Arbor, noted that communities should “get on the bus; you can’t wait for the best bus.”

So, are we ready here in northwest lower Michigan, to take advantage of the coming smart city technologies? Maybe not yet, but with some dreaming, some planning, and some work, we will be. For information about how to get your community ready for a connected future, contact Janet Koch, NLEA’s Community Development Specialist, at janet@northernlakes.net or 231-582-6482.

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