Will Virginia Participate in the “Open Urbanism” Revolution?

by James A. Bacon

A global revolution in the design and management of cities is gaining momentum. The rapid evolution of sensors, analytics and automation technologies is creating once-in-a-generation opportunities to drive down the cost of infrastructure and public services at the very moment that state and local governments face the worse fiscal stress since the Great Depression.

In South Bend, Ind., an analytic system helps predict and prevent wastewater overflows, obviating the need to invest millions of dollars in upgrades to physical capacity, write Rick Robins, IBM executive architect for smarter cities in the Future Cities blog.

In Stockholm, a system for charging for road use influences the decisions of travelers driving into the city, reducing congestion and improving environmental quality.

In California, statistical algorithms predict future traffic speeds and volumes with 85% accuracy based on real-time traffic information. Commuters use personalized information to plan the time and route of their journeys.

Writes Robins:

We are on the cusp of exciting possibilities, with technology-enabled marketplace systems emerging in such fields as locally generated power, on-street parking, food and the spare passenger and freight capacity in journeys that are already being undertaken in taxis and vans. As the open data movement in cities evolves, we will have the tools to implement an information-based “open urbanism” where the impact of our choices on our cities and communities can be made clearer to us — an essential component of the sustainable city of the future.

Many of these innovations were explored recently at a World Bank symposium, “Rethinking Cities,” in Barcelona in October. (Barcelona, by the way, is one of the Rebellion’s favorite cities.) I wonder how many Virginia municipalities or state agencies sent attendees. Frankly I would be encouraged if anyone from Virginia attended, for I have seen little discussion of these topics locally — although, admittedly, the silence could reflect media ignorance rather than government disinterest.

I am sensitive to the topic because my wife is an executive at Richmond-based Tridium, developer of the Niagara and Sedona software platforms for connecting distributed sensors, controllers and other devices. Niagara is fast becoming the de facto standard for building automation systems worldwide. Many of the innovations taking root in building automation — including Big Data analytics to make sense of the oceans of unstructured data sloshing around — can be extended to infrastructure and transportation networks.

It would be ironic indeed if Virginia fell behind the movement to exploit this potential. After all, the largest concentration of information technology and telecommunications companies in the WORLD is located in Northern Virginia. We have the talent and resources to make Virginia a global leader in smart cities, digital cities, wired cities, call it what you will. But someone has to make the connection between Northern Virginia and Richmond. Perhaps one of the candidates for the 2013 races for governor and lieutenant governor will make open urbanism a priority.

One Response to Will Virginia Participate in the “Open Urbanism” Revolution?

  1. This is an exciting topic, one that holds much promise.

    Imagine all the existing roads between Baltimore and Richmond being dedicated to intra-region use between those two towns and DC.

    Imagine also the diverting the interstate traffic in ways “that drive” new and more thoughtful land use patterns outside the Balt/DC/Rich corridor.

    New technologies can help us reach those solutions. But, in my experience, the problem far too often is not in assembling the technology, but in finding the common sense, practical experience, and wisdom to apply it.

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