Boondoggle in the Meadowlands: Pt. 1 – A Graveyard for Grandiose Plans

What is this?

American Dream

Is it the baseball stadium that was dangled in front of the Yankees as far back as the 1970’s in an effort to get the team to pack up and move across the Hudson along with their Yankee Stadium cohabitants, the New York Football Giants? Nope.

Is it the result of the 1991 plan to build a Legoland Amusement Park, or maybe Sony’s proposed theme park to rival Disneyland? No, neither of those proposals ever got off the ground.

Is this the $50 million dollar amusement park that Donald Trump proposed to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority in 1993? No, not that either.

Is this Xanadu, a project that was awarded to Mills Corporation in 2003 with the initial completion date of 2006? A plan that included an indoor ski slope, a Legoland, a movie theater and a concert hall. A plan that prompted Star-Ledger columnist Phil Munshine to comment, “What were the guys from the Meadowlands who thought up our vision of Xanadu smoking? Crack?” We’re getting closer. This is the ruins of the never-completed Xanadu.

Is this the Hard Rock Café casino, plans for which were unveiled in June of last year? Definitely not, because casinos are not allowed in New Jersey outside of Atlantic City. And while the question of allowing two casinos in North Jersey is on the November ballot, polls show it is likely on its way to a resounding defeat.

Is this the American Dream? Well, this building, which has been called “the ugliest dam building in New Jersey and possibly in America” by Gov. Chris Christie, is in fact the planned site for the American Dream, an entertainment and shopping complex under the direction of Triple Five, the developers of Minnesota’s Mall of America.

The American Dream is perhaps the most grandiose plan of all. And could well be the biggest boondoggle of all. Here are just a few of the things that the developers say will be included:

  • The country’s largest indoor amusement park.
  • The country’s largest indoor water park.
  • An indoor ski slope.
  • A 300-foot tall ferris wheel with views of Manhattan.
  • A SeaLife aquarium
  • An 800-room hotel
  • A dine-in movie theater with the added feature of being able to smell scents from the movie.
  • A Legoland Discovery Center
  • A kosher food court
  • 500 stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, the Gap and Toys “R” Us.

You might imagine that would have a pretty hefty price tag, even with the state providing the land and waivers on tax collections. The first two developers spent $1.9 billion on the unfinished buildings in the image above. The second of those, Colony Capital, which took over after Mills went bankrupt, was cut off by its lenders and the property foreclosed. New Jersey taxpayers had kicked in with $80 million in road and infrastructure improvements to support the project. It was later turned over to Triple Five. The Christie administration then pumped in with another $1 billion in tax breaks and subsidies.

Meadowlands cranes

Is this a parking lot for giant cranes?

So you might think the American Dream is back on the road. And while there seems to have been some work going on in 2015 it all came to a halt last fall. Turns out Triple Five could use another billion or so and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority is lining up a sale of that amount of bonds, backed largely by future sales tax receipts and payment in lieu of taxes. Triple Five, which now estimates the total cost of this now 13-year old project at $5 billion, is projecting a 2017 opening date. Whoops, that’s now been pushed back to 2018.

Here’s Uncle Floyd’s take:

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The State of the City

Former governor of New Jersey

Former Governor Tom Kean

Tom Kean was governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990. At Friday’s NJ Spotlight on Cities conference he talked about his experience talking to urban mayors and residents. They wanted three things: safe streets, jobs, and decent schools.

Just last month a Rutgers-Eagleton poll asked the question what is the “most important thing to make NJ cities better places to live.” The top three answers were jobs, public safety and quality schools.

Has nothing changed in the last three decades? Most think our cities are in somewhat better shape than they were when Kean took office. And there is some optimism fueled by the fact that Americans in their 20’s and 30’s are showing a distinct preference for living in more urban environments. That is what prompted Tom Byrne, the son of another former governor Brendan Byrne, to exclaim: “Thank God for the millennials!”

Another of the conference’s speakers, Kim Fortunato of the Campbell Soup Foundation, said of Camden, “we’re not as heartbreaking these days, there are a lot of bright spots.”

I lived in downtown Jersey City in the 90’s and the early 2000’s. I watched as the waterfront office buildings filled up with the back office operations of Wall Street firms. I then watched as they were circled with luxury apartments and condos. The restaurants, bars and coffee shops soon followed. By now downtown Jersey City has become an almost trendy place to live. The price tag has gone up accordingly.

The plan to build a world-class performing arts center in Newark (NJPAC) came to fruition while Kean was governor. Newark has since added a first class sports arena and gained an NHL franchise. Prudential, which has been in Newark for 140 years, built a new 20-story headquarters in 2014. Audible moved to the city in 2007 and Panasonic moved their headquarters there in 2013. Downtown Newark now has a Nike store and a Starbucks, and a brand new Whole Foods is on its way.

Ras Baraka at NJ Spotlight on Cities

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka

But as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka pointed out, “there is a mixed view of the city depending on where you live.” Many of the city’s residents have no access to the finance and the commerce of the central business district. For both Newark and Jersey City, the downtown Renaissance has not been felt in other parts of those cities and has priced out residents of other neighborhoods.

So while there are many statistics that can be cited that show people migrating to instead of away from cities, Kresge Foundation Senior Fellow Carol Coletta, noted: “Outside the spotlight the number of people living in concentrated poverty is increasing.”

There was nary a person at the conference who didn’t think education was a key ingredient to any imrpovement in our cities. Yet current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has advocated a change in school funding that would be based on providing the exact same amount of money for every student no matter where that student went to school. The result of that plan would be to pull millions of dollars in educational funding out of the city schools and into the suburban schools, many of which are already vastly superior to their urban counterparts. Christie’s goal is to reduce property taxes in the suburbs.

In a state that is already substantially segregated, the likely result would be a further separation. Baraka, who at one time was a school principal in Newark, believes that “funding schools through property taxes is inherently unequal.” When it comes to the cities he added, “You’re going to spend the money anyway. You can spend it on hospitals, on social services, on incarceration. Or you can spend it on education.” Fortunately, Christie’s approval ratings have fallen through the floor and there is likely no chance he could ever win an election in New Jersey again.

Mayor of Perth Amboy, N.J.

Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz

New Jersey is as diverse as it gets in the U.S. And most of that diversity is in the state’s cities. There are 2 million immigrants in New Jersey, out of a total population of 9 million. About 400,000 to 500,000 of those are undocumented. Jersey City alone has some 50 different ethnic groups. But if you look at the photo at the bottom of this post of the state’s gubernatorial hopefuls, they are all white men.

One of the conference speakers, Wilda Diaz, is the mayor of Perth Amboy, a city of 51,000 that is 70% Latino. She is the only Latina mayor in New Jersey, a state with 565 municipalities. Khader Ken Abuassab of the American Arab Civic Organization commented that while Arabs make up 25% of the population of the city of Paterson, they have no representation at the city or county level.

The conference ended with a panel of four gubernatorial hopefuls for the 2017 election. Refreshingly, there were no personal attacks. They talked about issues: jobs, schools and safety. The same issues the gubernatorial hopefuls of 1982 likely talked about.

Future governor?

Lee Keough of NJ Spotlight sits in the middle of four New Jersey gubernatorial hopefuls. They are, from left, John Wisniewski, Phil Murphy, Jack Ciattarelli and Tom Byrne.

A video of the NJ Spotlight On Cities event is available here.

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Oil, Water and Intrigue: A Book Review

Oil and Water by P.J. Lazos

What’s an environmental thriller? Climate change armageddon? Or maybe something along the lines of a serious version of Little Shop of Horrors?

A novel by P.J. LazosP.J. Lazos’ Oil and Water, an environmental thriller, is about big oil. If you’re not a fan of big oil, this book will only give more fuel for the fire. Think arrogant guys smoking cigars with their feet on their desks pooh-poohing the latest ecological disaster their corporation is responsible for. There are oil spills and oil leaks, but that’s only the beginning of the environmental issues Oil and Water raises. Even Saddam Hussein makes a cameo in this story as an enemy of Mother Nature.

The novel begins with seemingly random death and destruction. Four hundred and some odd pages later it is all tied together. That’s the thriller element.

I was super impressed with the author’s knowledge of oil rigs, underwater operations, spills, cleanups and rescues. It enables her to describe scenes like the near-fatal underwater leak repair in the Gulf in detail that you would think could only be provided by the divers themselves. She even seems to nail the male banter between the divers and their above ground support.

I was even more impressed with her ability to build suspense in the way she relates this and other tales. Little thrillers within the larger story. It is one of the things that makes this long novel a quick and engaging read.

Much of the story takes place in a household run by and for teenagers, give or take a couple years on either end. (Their parents died in the aforementioned death and destruction.) That in itself makes for an interesting tale.

After reading Oil and Water, you can’t help but long for the day when we might be able to leave what’s left of our fossil fuels in the ground. If only there was a real family of teens and pre-teens who could build a machine to convert trash to fuel at scale.

There is a sea of self-published authors these days. Many are skilled writers and storytellers. I wish I read more of them, but it’s hard to find the good ones amidst the amateurish and the flamingly self-absorbed. This is one of the good ones.

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What is Civic Tech and Why Do We Need It?

It’s 6 p.m. on Tuesday night on the 8th floor of the Chicago Merchandise Mart, an 85-year-old building on the city’s north side. Technologists, academics, data scientists, developers, researchers and just plain interested citizens begin filing in.

Merchandise Mart

Merchandise Mart, Chicago

After a little socializing there’s a short presentation. Some recent presenters have included a couple guys from Microsoft talking about how to make sidewalks safe, representatives from the U.S. General Accounting Office and the Cook County Bureau of Technology introducing their new Web site. After the presentation, they split up into breakout groups. One group is focusing on police accountability. Another is mapping the demand for better transit, while another is approaching the problem of finding nursing homes in the city.

This is Chi Hacknight and it is one of the most active examples of civic technology.  Civic tech is a grassroots, citizen-generated approach to building what I’ve been calling in these posts, the smart city. Hack nights like the one in Chicago now meet in several cities in the U.S. as well as in London and in Monterrey, Mexico.

Writing in Tech Crunch (Civic Tech Brings Power and Positivity to the People), Stacy Donohue comments: “in an era marked by political pessimism and ever-increasing frustration with government, civic tech can play an important role in empowering people to take action — as entrepreneurs, as public officials and as engaged citizens.”

Another pioneering civic tech group is Code for America in San Francisco. They describe themselves as “a network of people making government work for the people, by the people, in the 21st century. How do we get there? Government services that are simple, effective, and easy to use, working at scale to build healthy, prosperous, and safe communities.” One of Code for America’s projects is GetCalFresh. Intended to address the 2 million Californians who were eligible but not receiving this food assistance, GetCalFresh enables these folks to apply in about 10 minutes on their smartphone or tablet, get help via online chat and upload photos of documents that otherwise would have to be faxed or scanned. Another Code for America initiative, Clear My Record, is targeted at people who have committed low level crimes and who have served their time.

Some platform-based services that promote civic tech have also emerged. Neighborly describes itself as “modern public finance.” It allows users to invest in municipal bonds to support projects in their neighborhood. The bonds can be purchased in small denominations using the Neighborly platform. It recently sponsored a Neighborly Bonds Challenge. One of the winners was the city of Burlington, Vt., which hopes to use the financing for its Sustainable Action Plan.

SeeClickFix purports to “help hundreds of communities resolve millions of issues.” Through this app you can report a pothole, a broken streetlight or a vandalized playground. The app also gives government entities the ability to organize and track citizen-reported, non-emergency issues, potentially making them more efficient. Among the cities that use the app are Houston, Minneapolis and New Haven, Conn.

In discussing the future of cities and how they can use technology to become “smart,” civic tech has some significant advantages that suggests it should play a large role.

  • It is democracy. The goal is to give the residents of the community the ability to bring forth ideas, participate in planning and in developing solutions. It provides the opportunity to be part of and help direct local government.
  • It’s cheaper than many commercial technology solutions. For one thing, it cuts out the consultant layer of tech development, which is often enormously expensive. The consultant is replaced by people who have a stake in the community.
  • It avoids the potential pitfall of turning over aspects of management of a city to large technology corporations what may well be more focused on their profits than they are on citizen welfare.
  • It offers the potential for meaningful careers in technology. The citizens of a community have the opportunity to be entrepreneurs, to develop start-ups, and to create jobs that enable people to use their skills in a way that improves their environment.

    City Skyline

    (Dawn Hudson)

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Seward Johnson: Sculptor, Painter, Public Artist

Seard Johnson sculpture

Were You Invited?

Grounds for Sculpture founder

Seward Johnson chatting with guests at the Grounds for Sculpture

The 86-year old New Jersey native is best known for his painted bronze statues of iconic people and iconic works. These include Unconditional Surrender, based on the news photo of a returning midshipman kissing his sweetheart after the end of World War 2. Twenty-five foot high versions of this statue are on display in Sarasota, Key West, San Diego and Snug Harbor. And there’s the 17-ton “Forever Marilyn” which adorns downtown Palm Springs. Johnson is sometimes treated with disdain by the snobbier folks in the world of sculpture, either because his works are painted or because of his copies of famous pieces from other mediums. Personally, I’m a big fan of his work. And for all of us who went to college not having a clue what we wanted to do with our lives, take note that Seward Johnson’s time at the University of Maine was spent majoring in poultry husbandry. Johnson founded the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J., where many of his works are on display. Here are just of few of them.

Seward Johnson sculpture

The Nature of Obsession

Seward Johnson sculpture

Seward Johnson sculpture

Testing Togetherness

Seward Johnson sculpture

Has Anyone Seen Larry?

Seward Johnson Sculpture

Pondering the Benefits of Exercise

Seward Johnson sculpture

A Reason to Smile with French Guards

Seward Johnson sculpture

Seward Johnson sculpture

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Maybe We Don’t Want Our Cities to Be Smart

The promise of the smart city is one that runs more efficiently, more cost effectively and more sustainably. But that all comes with a cost and it is a cost that may be over and above the dollars spent. It’s for that reason that some have questioned whether or not the smart city would actually be a place where we would want to live.

security cameraWhile the internet of things may offer a vision of a tech-fueled utopia to some, to others it suggests an omnipresent Big Brother that goes far beyond anything envisioned by Orwell. We all have seen how easily and thoroughly we are tracked online. Imagine when that tracking occurs in public places and in our homes because sensors are everywhere, sensors that record video and sounds not just info we choose to input. At minimum that suggests a virtual bombardment of so-called personalized marketing pretty much everywhere we go.

But there may also be some less benign ramifications. The internet of things, and hence the smart city, runs on wireless technology. The security vulnerabilities of wireless technology have been repeatedly demonstrated. Friendly hackers have shown how they could take control of a connected vehicle’s brakes, steering and acceleration. They even have a name for a terrorist attack of hackers that would, for example, disable the brakes on all connected vehicles in a given area. It’s called a “zero day” attack. And there’s no reason to assume that the sensors that might manage a water and sewer plant, a nuclear power stations or a medical device are any less vulnerable.

Technology has already begun to be adopted as a way to improve police effectiveness. “Shotspotter” identifies the location of gunfire. Predictive analytics are being used to determine deployment of policing manpower and a cell phone tracking technology called “Stingray” is used to predict crimes. A civil rights group in Baltimore recently filed a complaint with the FCC about the use of Stingray in a racially discriminatory manner. Do the analytics lead to the appearance of racial or ethnic profiling. One can argue that the data is the data, but the perception alone could lead to the kind of social disruption that we’ve experienced as the result of discriminatory policing.

Aside from the hackers, terrorists and rogue law enforcers, we would also have to be comfortable with turning over certain areas of governance to private concerns, since cities do not, and are not likely to get, to level of expertise and resource necessary to implement a smart city operating system. What happens when the board of your town’s technology provider decides that their first priority is their shareholders? That is the same thing that happens in many corporations now. We get lower quality product, diminished customer service and higher prices (think banks or airlines), all in the name of enhancing shareholder value by increasing profits. The Chicago Tribune warned “it’s wise to remember that the driving force behind smart city endeavors should be the civic benefit they provide — not the profits they create for the Ciscos and IBMs that get billions from smart city contracts.” Writing in the Guardian Stephen Poole asks “And what role will the citizen play? That of unpaid data-clerk, voluntarily contributing information to an urban database that is monetised by private companies?” That’s a little like what we all do on Facebook now.

A few weeks ago, one of the world’s largest airlines, Delta, was brought to its knees and shutdown by a system outage. What happens if Chicago or Milan or Beijing is being run on a single operating system. Will it be immune to crashes?

And finally, there is the question of what the smart city does to the social and economic inequality which already plagues so many of our systems. If all city services and citizen information is online, what does that mean for the unconnected? According to the New York Times, one out of every five Americans does not have internet access. In households with income of less than $20,000, half have no access. Many of those folks live in cities and putting our cities online creates an even more disadvantaged class, one without equal access to education or job opportunities.

In her article The Too Smart City in the Boston Globe, Courtney Humphries suggests that as opposed to the high tech vision of the smart city, “…there’s an equally compelling vision of the city as a chaotic and dynamic whirl of activity, an emergent system, an urban jungle at once hostile and full of possibility—a place to lose oneself.”

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A short walk around The Grounds for Sculpture

Segal sculpture at Grounds for Sculpture

Depression Breadline, George Segal

Grounds for Sculpture

Bamboo-lined walkway


The Grounds for Sculpture is a 42-acre contemporary sculpture park in Hamilton Township, N.J. It was founded by New Jersey sculptor Seward Johnson whose works I will feature in a later post. Opened in 2000, the park is adorned with beautiful grounds that could make it a botanical garden if it wasn’t for all the sculpture. There is also an outstanding restaurant on the premises with the unfortunate name of Rat’s.




Schatz's Spaceship

Schatz’s Spaceship (Inspired by the Obloid), E. Caldor Powel

Grounds for Sculpture

Monet Bridge

This is the view if you’re dining at Rat’s Restaurant

Grooms scullpture

Henry Moore in a Sheep Meadow, Red Grooms

Ramirez sculpture

Rattle, Paul Henry Ramirez

Bamboo forest


Van Gogh Cafe

Van Gogh Cafe

Boaz Vaadia: Sculpture

Boaz Vaadia exhibitSculpture by Boaz VaadiaVaadia sculpture

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Why Our Cities Aren’t So Smart

You can acquire streetlights equipped with sensors that connect wirelessly to the cloud. They can monitor traffic, pollution, the weather, energy usage and more. They can have audio speakers with automated messages or digital signs. And give or take a few sensors these smart lightposts cost about $6,000 each. There are 250,000 street lights in New York City. How many do you think the city has the money to replace at $6,000 a pop. This is a place where they recently balanced the budget by cutting the funding for some 31,000 kids to go to summer camp. Who has the money to fit smart poles into this year’s budget?

streetlightThat in a nutshell explains why the vision of a smart city is still just that, a vision. Almost all of the operating budget for most cities is being spent on the day-to-day operation of the city, meeting the payroll, keeping the schools running, paying and equipping the police and the firemen, filling the biggest of the potholes, collecting the trash.

In the U.K., research by street lighting equipment manufacturer Lucy Zodion concluded there are five barriers to delivering smart city solutions (like the ones they provide). They are:

  • A lack of funding
  • A lack of internal prioritization
  • A lack of evidence or proof
  • Not enough collaboration
  • A general lack of confidence

The development of the smart city is largely in the hands of local, not state, provincial or federal government. So it is subject to various levels of less than optimum functioning, like different departments operating in silos, lack of centralized information systems and often obsolete equipment. I found one fairly large American city where the payroll is running on a 30-year old mainframe.

Most cities don’t have the level of management and technical expertise that is needed and that you find in private sector technology companies. They can’t do it themselves and the consultants and the technology firms that are pitching the smart city aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re not cheap.

The issue of prioritization also raises some pretty significant questions. The development of the smart city depends on what technology can do. And while we know there are some pretty substantial things that can be addressed and improved it doesn’t address the quality of education in the schools, poverty, drugs and crime and substandard housing. How do you prioritize things like identifying the best traffic route, finding available parking spots, or conserving energy when faced with these issues. The best case scenario might be to use technology to improve efficiency and lower costs so more funds are available to address these larger issues. Unfortunately at this point there is not a substantial enough body of evidence to show a return on investment at scale to justify some of the costs.

So while the promise of smart cities has been around 10-15 years and it offers a brighter vision of the urban future, it still is only proceeding in dribs and drabs. There is some federal government money available in the form of grants, some foundations are underwriting some projects and some corporate philanthropy can get some projects going. There is also what has been called the civic tech movement in which the citizenry actively engages through ideas and even entrepreneurship. But the larger vision isn’t likely to happen without larger funding.

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Disrupting the Campus: Innovation in Higher Education

Is the higher education system in the United States meeting the economic and societal needs of the country in the 21st century? The panelists at New America’s event “The Most Innovative People in Higher Education,” held last week in Washington, would probably say no.

Administration BuildingIt was generally agreed that the higher education system is not producing enough graduates. Those that do graduate might not be able to secure a job that enables them to pay down the debt that they have been left with. And they might not graduate with the skills they are going to need to be successful.

And there are more issues, according to this group, like:

  • There’s a lot of bad administration
  • First generation students, minority students and students from low-income families don’t get the help they need.
  • The funding model is unsustainable.
  • Most colleges operate according to tradition and are resistant to change.

One of the panelists, Bridget Burns of University Innovation Alliance, commented “Any ranking (of colleges) that is focusing on exclusivity is focusing on something that is the opposite of what America needs in the future.”

Georgia Tech professor Charles Isbell addressed the issue of exclusivity vs. accessibility in describing his school’s Online Masters in Computer Science degree program. The courses cost $6,600 for the full degree program, compared to about $42,000 for the on campus equivalent. 12,000 have applied for the program since 2013 and 55% have been accepted.  The on campus acceptance rate, according to Isbell, is 10%. That’s not because only 10% are qualified but because of the limits of the on-campus capacity.

By contrast Stanford accepted only 4% of its applicants. Isbell commented that the goal of the Georgia Tech program is to “accept anyone who can succeed.” The program also addresses the need for flexible mid-career training. The average age of the students is 35, 11 years older than the average age for the on-campus equivalent.

Text booksAmy Laitinen of New America discussed competency based education, schools that award degrees based upon what you know rather than how many credit hours you’ve accumulated. While the traditional approach of colleges is to treat students as if they all know the same thing, the competency based approach credits the student for what he or she already knows. Often done in conjunction with an employer, competency based programs are more flexible and more affordable, according to Laitinen. She cited Southern New Hampshire University as a good example of an institution offering this type of approach.

Burns is part of a group of colleges that have taken a collaborative approach to achieving their educational goals. The ten participating colleges includes Arizona State University, which she described as the most innovative school in the country, and others like Georgia State, Texas, Ohio State and Kansas. As a group they set a goal over the next ten years of awarding 68,000 more degrees than had been expected and of having half of those additional degrees awarded to students from low-income backgrounds. According the Burns, the Alliance is at this point exceeding those goals.

These examples, according to this group, provide evidence while it may have been a long time in coming, innovation is beginning to take hold in the world of higher education. But there is some catching up to do.

New America is a Washington based think tank focusing on public policy and technology. The innovation in higher education discussion can be viewed online here.

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Some Smart Things Some Cities Are Doing

The technology driven promise of the smart city is largely unfulfilled. But we are in a world of prototypes, beta tests and early adapters. And some of the things that some cities are doing are pretty impressive. Here are some examples:

Kansas City

Kansas City

Kansas City bills itself as the “world’s most connected smart city.” That’s because it has focused on getting all of its citizens online. There is free public WiFi downtown along the city’s streetcar line, which is also free. And for those who don’t have a smartphone or other device, they can stop into one of the 25 kiosks that have been installed in the downtown area and connect to the smart city network over which different services will be provided. They’ve also installed 125 smart streetlights that respond to activity, or lack thereof, and hence conserve energy. The city has a digital roadmap, the goals of which are to: improve the delivery of city services, enhance the resident experience, and support entrepreneurship and economic development.


Most of the discussion in this series of posts about smart cities is about how to make dumb old cities smart. Songdo tries to answer the question of what we would do if we started from scratch. Begun in 2005 and not yet completed, Songo has been built on 1500 acres of reclaimed land in South Korea. The city is 40% park space. Most of its residents commute on bicycles. It is a city of sensors, constantly monitoring the temperature, energy usage and traffic. All of its buildings have automated climate control. There are plots of land set aside for urban farming. Trash is collected through an underground pipeline system that connects all business and residential buildings. Seven employees manage trash collection for the whole city. Is this indeed the city of the future? Two writers from the Atlantic concluded “We had expected a city 25 or even 50 years ahead of the rest of the world; instead, Songdo felt like 2017—still the future, perhaps, but not the promised land of science fiction.” (Songdo, South Korea, City of the Future? )



Amsterdam launched its Smart City Initiative in 2009 with the goal of reducing traffic, improving public safety and conserving energy. One of the priorities of this initiative is to solicit and support ideas from its citizens. There is an annual Amsterdam Smart City Challenge that encourages residents to submit proposals for funding. One example of a citizen-conceived initiative is MobyPark, a peer-to-peer sharing platform for parking spaces. It enables owners of parking spaces to rent them out and the app meanwhile captures data about parking in the city. The Amsterdam initiative has launched 79 projects since its founding. One involved creating solar powered hot spots that enable people with laptops to work outdoors in open spaces. Test projects were launched with a variety of alternative energy sources, including wind farms, solar panels and fuel cells. A number of residents were equipped with smart grids and smart meters to encourage more efficient energy usage.

And a few of the more exotic implementations:

  • Smart Trash Cans – A South Korea based company, Ecube Labs, is testing its smart waste bins in two cities in Colombia. The bins monitor levels of trash and provide information as to when they need to be picked up. The company claims this can lower waste management costs by up to 80%. And, by the way, these smart trash receptacles are also WiFi hot spots.
  • Happiness Meter – A “live sentiment capture engine” is being implemented in Dubai. These devices are installed at government facilities like public transport hubs, police stations, courts and utility offices. It gives all visitors the ability to rate their “happiness” with these services. The analysis provides a “map of happiness” for different parts of the city.
  • Wirelessly charged buses – Wirelessly charged electric buses were put on the road in Milton Keynes in the UK in 2014. They had eight electric buses that ran a 15-mile route. They charge while in service through plates at both ends of the route.
  • Shotspotter – Implemented in New York City, Boston and several other cities, Shotspotter utilizes a network of audio sensors that are installed around the city to identify gunfire and to send information to the police as to the location of the gunfire.


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