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The Foundations of a Smart City

The Foundations of a Smart City

By Luke Carothers

The concept of Smart Cities has existed for a number of years, but, despite its relevance in conversations about the future, the concept has never been fully realized.  Dr. Rick Huijbregts was at the forefront of the development of smart cities as a concept, spending a good portion of his career prior to Stantec working at Cisco.  Huijbregts has spent much of his career developing the concept of smart cities for both municipalities and developers.  During his time before joining Stantec, Huijbregts also worked in an education administration position at the college level.  This education administration position made him consider how students would interact with an increasingly digital world, which led Huijbregts to develop ways for future talent to cultivate the skills and capabilities to be successful in their careers.  Now, in his position at Stantec, Huijbregts is able to synthesize his unique perspective to improve the development of communities.  

As the Global Smart Cities Lead at Stantec, Huijbregts is able to “connect the dots…between everything [they] have to offer from mobility to buildings to water to infrastructure.”  Particularly, Huijbregts is focused on how digital capabilities can “glue together” these functions to drive efficiency and productivity and deliver new experiences and outcomes.  The conversation about what defines smart cities has been around for more than two decades, and, in that time, the conversation has become significantly less technology-led.  Huijbregts points out his experience working on these early technology-led smart cities projects, noting that many were disappointed by the outcomes of such projects.  These early projects provided insight into the foundations of supporting smart cities development.

According to Huijbregts, these insights led to the development of a more rounded foundation known as the four pillars of smart cities, which is centered on “outcomes and people.”  The first pillar is the acknowledgement that you need collaborative ecosystems to build smart cities.  This means that, more than just technology and engineering companies, smart cities require collaboration between public and private sectors on economic development.  Huijbregts believes that this collaboration allows smart cities to collaborate and co-create sustainable solutions.  The second pillar is governance and rules regulation.  Again citing his smart cities experience, Huijbregts points out the importance of updating rules and regulations in a way that invites innovation and technology.  This involves conversations about optimizing and modernizing the building code as well as about privacy and data.

These conversations are in support of the third pillar of smart cities: which is digital infrastructure.  Huijbregts notes that this is a departure from previous approaches where technology was the center of conversation.  From a people-first perspective, the concept of digital infrastructure has developed as another utility along with water and electricity.  Huijbregts believes this involves developing “one secure converged infrastructure that different systems and stakeholders can leverage.”  This also involves managing the digitization of communities–from street lights to fire hydrants and parking–while considering the flow of data and connectivity between those systems.  

While technology-led smart cities projects have failed to meet expectations in the past, Huijbregts believes that the problem was usually not the technology itself, but that it doesn’t match the needs, outcomes, or expectations.  This creates a disconnect between the technology and intended purpose.  By developing an Internet of Things set to the flow of the community, the first three pillars can be leveraged to enact the fourth pillar, which, according to Huijbregts, is an “incredibly large number of capabilities and smart solutions.”  This means finding a way to “layer” smart solutions in a way that delivers the outcomes and benefits that serve that community’s constituents.  

In applying these four pillars, the idea of smart cities and the benefits they can bring become a conversation of continuous improvement rather than a large project that brings immediate change.  For Huijbregts, this paradigm shift allows smart cities to become “intentional about…[connecting the dots] in a way that adds incremental value to individuals and the community.  As the designers of the built environments, Huijbregts points out the AEC industry’s expertise in all sectors that influence life in a community.  By thinking about these sectors in a way that can build upon and support one another, “we can create environments where people thrive and can work, live, learn, and play in a new and innovative place.”

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.