Technology and Infrastructure: Why Action Today Will Deliver Wins for the Long Term

Monday, May 13, 2019 11:09 am EDT

By:

Martin Powell, Global Head of Urban Development

What makes a city liveable? One of the most basic requirements is clean air.  

Yet for the 26 million Americans who suffer from asthma, clean air can be quickly jeopardized when pollution levels rise. Air quality is just one of the day-to-day battles that city leaders are facing as they strive to create safe and healthy spaces for people to live and work.

This responsibility isn’t getting easier, either, as cities absorb 1.5 million people a week while confronting the effects of climate change. Three out of four people will live in cities by 2050.

At the same time, major shifts are happening within city spaces. More electric vehicles are coming onto the road. Local leaders are launching cleaner, more efficient energy initiatives to curb carbon emissions. The widespread electrification of transportation systems, which our eMobility business addresses, is an area that promises to have a big impact on how cities meet the challenges of rapid urbanization and environmental change. 

Which raises some important questions as we kick off Infrastructure Week today: What steps should cities take now to seize opportunities that will deliver over the long term? And how can we ensure that, as investments are made, everyone reaps the benefits?

We have technology today that can improve air quality and dramatically reduce emissions – but deploying it won’t happen by accident. City leaders need to develop forward-thinking plans and put those plans in motion today.

Many mayors are already embracing this challenge. After all, they are firsthand witnesses to a city’s emotions, often directly hearing the frustrations caused by power outages or delays in garbage pickup. Moreover, they rarely have the luxury of time. A critical response is often needed right away.

Which is why digital tools and real-time data analytics can be real assets as mayors attend to the unique demands within their city limits. There isn’t a uniform formula prescribing how every city or community should prepare for the future. But data can help paint the big picture, presenting options for both city leaders and the public in a powerful way.

Take Los Angeles as an example of how data is informing solutions to meet Mayor Eric Garcetti’s bold goals. For a geographically large, car-centric place like Los Angeles, infrastructure that encourages electric vehicles are the investments that can really make a difference. Data details the scope of the investment even further, enabling city leaders to know exactly how many charging stations need to be installed. For those keeping count in LA, it’s 130 per week for the next 30 years.   

As our digital capabilities advance, the rewards of infrastructure investments have the potential to grow even more dramatically. We see cities reclaiming their spaces in ways that make their communities greener and create more room for recreation.

Just think: How might urban areas transform if we eliminated the traffic caused by people looking for parking spots – a third of congestion in some cities? What if those cars had a parking spot assigned to them as they were en route?

It’s not a far-fetched possibility as we modernize the power grid and integrate IoT and AI technology into city infrastructure. And that’s the future of liveable cities that we’re imagining – one that not only ensures safety, health and equity, but that enhances our well-being far beyond the air we breathe.

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