Cities smart to grow together

Workshop looks at how cities can use, share IT to better serve citizens

By Katy Sword, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Kristin Tufte thinks the journey toward smart cities can be simplified into three words: People, intention and coordination.

“It’s data and technology and service of people,” said Tufte, Smart Cities Liaison for Portland State University. “Is the pedestrian on the street safer because of our work? Does the woman taking the bus to work know it will get her to work on time so she can relax on the bus?”

Tufte was one of three speakers Wednesday at Regional Transportation Council’s Smart Cities Workshop, which focused not only on smart cities but some regional opportunities.

The general aim in being a smart city is to use information technology to not only increase efficiency and improve government but to better share information with the public while improving their lives.

Connecting communities

Jesse Berst, chair of the Smart Cities Council, said the only way cities can move forward is to communicate with each other and share data.

“Many American communities are falling behind in this race,” Berst said. “It’s a race for the connected lifestyle but also for a better government. If you believe in accountability, in transparency, we have the tools now.”

While Tufte said that many communities are working on facets that push toward smart city status, there’s a general consensus that the region wants to know how to best move forward.

In Ridgefield, for example, advocating for technology like dark fiber has become standard practice.

“One of the reasons we are successful in what we’re doing is because we have an aggressive council, we have a good relationship with the Port (of Ridgefield) and we also go to (Washington) D.C. and Olympia — often,” said Ron Onslow, Ridgefield’s mayor.

Onslow said their focus on technology and pushing forward does come with growth and therefore complaints, but they’re managing.

“We try to keep the charm and at the same time we have growth,” he said.

One of the more immediate considerations for local municipalities is fiber connectivity.

“It’s been a bug in my bonnet for years,” said Paul Greenlee, Washougal city councilor. “It seems everywhere in Clark County, if you open a trench, bury a conduit (with fiber). That needs to be part of our engineering standards.”

That’s something the Port of Ridgefield is working toward, as well. A statute prevents the port from building its own dark fiber network and a 2016 attempt to change the state law failed. Nelson Holmberg, Vice President of Innovation with the Port of Ridgefield, said they’re making another attempt this year because implementing fiber at the port is essential to their mission.

“We call ourselves a community port because we invest in our community,” Holmberg said. Infrastructure investments are part of that service.

Collaboration is key

Autonomous vehicles were also at the forefront of the discussion. Berst said cities will soon experience a sea change in transportation with more autonomous vehicles, and infrastructure will need to adapt.

“We don’t know for sure, but we think it will have an immediate impact,” he said. With roughly 25 percent of a city’s downtown allocated for parking, that need could be eliminated.

As the conversation continues, Tufte said, collaboration is pertinent.

“I know priorities are different across the river, we all have to learn the same lessons, we all need similar tools so I think we should collaborate,” she said. “I don’t imagine an autonomous vehicle is going to get to the middle of the bridge and stop.”

The overarching intent of the conference, according to Adrian Pearmine with DKS Associates, was to show that being a smart city isn’t just for big cities.

“These enabling technologies can be brought into populations of all sizes,” Pearmine said. “We want to be part of the conversation for how we want our city and our county to grow.”