If you live in New York City, you’ve noticed large obelisks with the words “LinkNYC” across the top and the symbol that every person with a smartphone in New York City jumps for: the Wi-fi symbol. With over 50 percent of the planet’s seven billion-person population living in an urban area, smart cities, like New York, has a combined global market potential of $1.5 trillion, surpassing the GDP of several countries. In the United States, New York City is a leader in the urbanization vision. With the many initiatives that are developing simultaneously, smart cities are adjusting for the 10,000 people who migrate to urban areas per day and the 60 percent of the population that will live in urban areas by 2025. Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab project that cities will account for 90% of global population, 80% of wealth creation, and 60% of energy consumption.
What is a “smart city”?
A smart city is a response to the uptick in urbanization in the world. While definitions defer, the simple definition is the concept of an urban area that uses an information and communication technology infrastructure to create solutions to manage and improve key quality of life areas: economy, living, people, mobility, and government, amongst other areas. A smart city can see itself reducing costs and consumption of resources, while also improving connectivity between the government and the citizens.
For New York City, the focus is on buildings, transport, energy, public health, and government.
Mayor Bill de Blasio articulated that, “Technology is critical to New York’s places as a 21st Century city. Not just because tech brings lots of investment and jobs — but because successful cities have always thrived on the disruption new technology brings.”
Mayor de Blasio has lead efforts to integrate technology into city infrastructure by: incorporating wireless water meters, improving traffic management systems, especially in midtown Manhattan, quality control systems for air and water, and safety, the largest urban public safety and security data collection and processing system in the U.S. is operated by the New York City Police Department.
Anil Menon, global president of Cisco’s Smart+Connected Communities initiative, which partners with cities around the country to digitize them and provide solutions for connectivity, said,
“If cities are to address the gap between needs and resources, both public- and private-sector institutions must collaborate to develop creative solutions that leverage the speed and reach of an integrated digital network to capture and share important data and deliver urban services more efficiently. And they need to do so while preserving the characteristics that make each city unique.”
The City of New York also partners with third-party organizations to provide technological solutions for its residents, namely with IBM. IBM has aided the city in identifying questionable tax refund claims, preventing fires, and protecting first responders, which was projected to save the city approximately $100 million in a five-year period.
One way the city is deeply incorporating technology is through the use of microtrenching. Microtrenching is the process of installing small conduits along sidewalk perimeters to house fiber optic cabling. The benefit in this effort is in the expansion and improvement of New York City’s fiber optic broadband access with minimal disruption or interference to the daily lives of residents. Time Warner Cable is involved in an agreement to wire the Brooklyn Navy Yard and lay 20 miles of fiber per year through 2020.
Besides the improvements to infrastructure that subtly affect us, there are improvements that are more directly integrated into our daily lives. LinkNYC is a project that will replace all of New York City’s pay phones with kiosks called Links. At each Link, services such as free high-speed Wi-Fi, web browsing on the built-in tablet, phone calls, and a USB port to charge your devices are all provided. These services are free to use, as LinkNYC has teamed up with with the City of New York and organizations such as Intersection, Qualcomm, and CIVIQ Smartscapes. LinkNYC is projected to generate $500 million in revenue for the City in the first 12 years of the initiative.
Wifi connection is not limited to being above ground, however. Transit Wireless has an exclusive 28-year contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the New York City Transit Authority (NYCT) to provide high speed wifi and cellular connectivity to all of the underground subway stations by the end of 2016. As of right now, Transit Wireless services are available in 180 active stations throughout New York City, including Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Between LinkNYC services above and Transit Wireless services below, New Yorkers will virtually never be without a wireless internet signal.
On a macro scale, last year the Obama administration announced an initiative to invest over $160 million in federal research and leverage technology collaborations in order to provide better civic services to communities across the country, embracing the rise of smart cities. Among the many upcoming innovations announced, New York City’s Chief Technology Officer, the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), and New York City Economic Development Corporation have collaborated to create a series of neighborhood innovation labs in all five boroughs to test smart city technologies. The labs are important as the Mayor continues efforts to provide free wifi across the city. For example, Harlem currently houses the largest continuous public outdoor Wi-Fi network in the City. Through a generous donation, the Harlem Free Outdoor Wi-Fi project was completed in late 2014.
With more than 80,000 residents in Harlem, users can enjoy free Wi-Fi between Madison Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, from 110th Street to 138th Street.
Smart cities are on the rise around the globe and, in the United States, New York City is a leader in the innovation. Of the many initiatives simultaneously working, including Neighborhoods.nyc which gives updates relevant to neighborhood, such as subway alerts and restaurant health grades, and other city data, or Hudson Yards, a 26-acre real estate development project that will have intelligent software that not only measures air quality, but will also monitor your activity levels, the City of New York is constantly working to provide a safer, more connected city. More on Smart Homes and Cities.