To solve modern problems like traffic and air pollution, city governments need to think different. Find out how smart cities like Palo Alto, California are using technology to create a better quality of life for their citizens.
(energetic electronic music) - The challenge is that cities are changing rapidly. As we use more of that very finite resource of clean drinking water, as we create more waste, we're going to have to think very differently about how to solve the problems. Our tendency is to think about solving problems the way we've always done them. But there's a completely different degree of complexity that's emerged here now in the 21st century.
I often think about our highway system, and one of our recourses to congestion is to add another lane, because if you add another lane, more cars can flow. Turns out it doesn't work that way. More cars fill in that space, more cares change lanes, causing more congestion, ultimately. That's a 20th century solution. 21st century solutions think about cars differently. Do we need to own cars? Will cars drive themselves? Will we use cars on demand? That's thinking differently, that's thinking 21st century.
When I joined the city five years ago, the city manager said, Jonathan, we need a bold vision, a mission. Specifically around technology. What does technology mean for the city and in what ways can it contribute towards quality of life? And at the time, you know, I did some research, and I came up with this vision statement which was to build and enable a leading digital city. - One of the things with city governments that people have a perception of is that they don't take the risk to go ahead, invest in the infrastructure, to make it a smarter, more connected city.
And in Palo Alto here, we're willing to make that investment and to allow people to experiment, to run pilot programs, and to really be innovative. - [Jonathan] We really do work like a startup. We really are pushing projects out quickly, we're innovating. One of the innovative projects that we kicked off a few years ago was to make sure that the data we stored at city hall was available to anyone who wanted it.
And innovators can begin to build solutions around it. - It, one, provides value for us as a city, but two, to the extent that we can show the way to other cities that things can be done, then the whole country, the whole world, is a better place. - We do things because they're important to our community. We don't have a target market, right? In the city, it's everybody. It's children, it's older people, it's visitors.
We're not doing something to maximize profit, we're doing something because we can reach the most amount of people, perhaps, and provide services that, for example, add to a healthier life. - What we're really focused on is real, practical life applications of technology, but more than that, sort of smart city systems thinking. (upbeat music) - So what is a smart city? Today, in 2017, there's no agreed definition.
One thing that's really clear about smart cities is they're very specific to a city. The problems we have in Palo Alto are different than Shanghai and Amsterdam. Although the categories are similar, how we approach them, the extent of the issue, and the solutions are going to be very specific. - One of the things that most cities are grappling with is congestion, and how do we get people out of their cars, and how do we get good data on how transportation works in the city? - You know, when you are in an urban environment and there's tons of traffic and you're wondering, where's everyone going, what's all this traffic about? Turns out that people in the cars are looking for parking spaces.
They're literally going around blocks, creating this congestion. So we think about, how can you make it easier? We've now got to be able to, for example, put a sensor into a parking space, and then collect data whether parking space is occupied or not occupied, send it to the cloud, and have any number of applications consume that data. This is the intersection between the physical world and the digital world. And this is really exciting, cutting-edge work that we're doing.
- What we're talking about is a combination of sensor arrays feeding back to a central point where we can aggregate that data and do things with it. Prior to this, data collection was very difficult through dedicated monitors, but now with the proliferation of these independent devices, we're able to distribute them across the city and collect data like we never have before. - If we're going to have a better transportation system the traffic signals need to talk to the cars and the cars need to talk to other systems, like weather systems and traffic management systems.
So we can count traffic in real time 24/7, and based on that data, we can begin to design, for example, an intersection better. We've never had that type of real time capability before. You know, this data that we collect, not only can we use it, but we can put it in the cloud, which we do, and share it with as many people who would like to consume it. This phenomenon is called open data, and cities and public agencies all over the world are beginning to embrace it.
After all, the data belongs to the people. - [Chris] We were one of the first innovators to bring our budget onto the internet in an open budget application. - [Greg] So instead of being frustrated and calling the city and not really getting the answers, they can go look online and find the answers to their questions, in really a granular level. - You know, it can't be about community and government separately.
You got to look for ways to bring people into problem solving in an urban environment. I can't imagine a smart city without a really good democracy. Those go hand in hand. Too many people in the world are getting sick from air quality. In fact, some of the new data shows people are dying in cities because of air quality. And now we can put very low-cost air quality sensors in commercial districts and analyze the particulates in the air.
And we can hand that data off to academics, here, perhaps, at Stanford University, who can analyze it and come back with recommendations. - We've already reduced greenhouse gases in this city by 36%, and we've got an 80% carbon reduction by 2030 official policy goal. - Over half the population of the world lives in a city context now. About three million people are moving into cities every week.
Over the next 20 years, that equates to about two billion more people living in cities. Our cities aren't well-prepared for that. So we are in a tough spot globally as it relates to cities. The needs are diverse and deep and wide. - Smart cities are becoming more and more important to cities. So this is an expanding field in which there's huge opportunity, doing something that's really meaningful for the community.
- [James] I would think for any young people or people who are studying right now in the IT and technology sector, really think about what it means to work in the city. - There is so much room for technologists and IT leaders and all sorts of technical people and creative people to come to government and help solve these problems. Right now, we don't have enough people. We don't have enough ideas. I'm concerned about these challenges, but I'm an optimist too. With the right people, the right innovation, the right technology, we can bring some incredible solutions to the table.