Friday, November 13, 2009

Smarter Cities – Smarter Planet

IBM tells us that in 1900, just over a hundred years ago, only 13% of the global population lived in cities; by 2050, 70% will. What are the ramifications of rapid urbanization and what solutions does technology offer?

Issues IBM addresses in its “Smarter Planet” initiative include transportation (Atlanta traffic being what it is in 2009, I’d sure hate to be on the downtown connector or I-285 in 2050!), healthcare, education (see “Education in Georgia”, below), energy, water (as a Certified Georgia Master Gardener this is a topic I have studied and that concerns me greatly), employment (with accountability and transparency) – and that is just a start!

Phil Guido, IBM Corporation’s General Manager, U.S. East, spoke last week of the world’s interconnectedness, economically, socially and technically, and identified a “new wave” with an infusion of intelligence – “Instrumented, Interconnected and Intelligent”. He gave his audience several examples of “smart” global solutions, e.g. traffic flow in Stockholm, and crime fighting in New York City.

Three metro counties’ heads of government also spoke at the event.

John Eaves of Fulton listed his priorities as crime, healthcare and transportation, highlighting the success of transforming Grady Hospital into an independent nonprofit institution and the need for MARTA to expand. Burrell Ellis of DeKalb read a nice speech without specifics (“2010 will present challenges; urbanization impacts our lifestyles”. DeKalb is recruiting new businesses in healthcare, technology and other industries, and he wants DeKalb to have “the greenest government in America”), and Sam Olens of Cobb mentioned that “education is key”, starting with “showing up for Kindergarten”.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named the Cobb County Water System its 2009 WaterSense partner of the year in the Large Utility category, and the county is # 17 on the EPA’s “certified green” list, prompting Olens to remark that “Cobb is already green” – a little swipe at the speaker who preceded him?

More provocative than the other two counties’ speakers, Olens advocated for (1) the arts, mentioning the Gwinnett Arena and the Cobb Energy Center as examples of bringing the arts to the people, for (2) light rail, proposing to connect the City of Atlanta with Kennesaw State University, for (3) buying up park land to expand green spaces, and for (4) redoing the old, dilapidated traffic corridors (“areas now only good for loitering”), such as Cobb Parkway and Memorial Drive (another swipe at DeKalb?) with mixed-use redevelopment, saying several times that he is tired of talking and wants to see “dirt moving”. Not leaving the state of Georgia unscathed in his comments, Olens said he opposes giving tax abatements to companies that do not bring high-tech jobs to the state.

So, how does all this tie into IBM and its technology solutions?

We can learn from Brisbane, Albuquerque, Malta, Sao Paolo, Masdar City and other places around the globe. The question is: are we willing to learn, or do we think we already know it all (like the south Georgia father who does not see a need for his son to have a college education), here in Atlanta, in Georgia, in the United States?

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