There’s no doubt that the technology sector is leading the Puget Sound’s real estate market with mega companies such as Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft, Google, Tableau and many others taking up more real estate at every opportunity. But technology is also at the center of any “smart city,” which integrates a number of elements including information and communication technology and Internet of Things technology to contribute to an involved urban development vision. The vision typically includes updating and revolutionizing modes of transportation to account for population increases in any given city. So how can we work with this in Seattle?
A panel of influential leaders in the region including Michael Mattmiller with the City of Seattle, Bill Lee with Microsoft and moderator Tyler Duvall with McKinsey, spoke to a packed room at the Urban Land Institute Spring meeting in Seattle last week to discuss some of the ways in which our city can utilize economic opportunities by leveraging technology.
To make a city smarter is to make it more human
In Seattle, Mattmiller explained some of the ways our city is working to become smarter. While acknowledging that not all of these ideas are necessarily going to change the world, he did say that locally, they are game changers.
One of those technologies the city is utilizing is an adaptive signaling system for traffic, which has already been installed around town. “We have the ability to adjust traffic lights and other parts of our traffic management in real time based on conditions,” Mattmiller said. The timing of the lights can be adjusted at any given time to help ease the flow of traffic and alert drivers of current travel times. To do this, the city installed a number of sensors that help track the information of current traffic.
Another game changer Mattmiller discussed is the city’s partnership with University of Washington and the National Weather Service to establish a rain watch program. “Having good partnerships is key to develop long term plans. Seattle has partnered with UW, Microsoft and the Mayor to utilize tech to better serve the community,” Mattmiller said. The partnership proved successful when the city installed rain gage systems throughout neighborhoods that helps give the city an hour’s notice before sudden weather events. Again, while recognizing this isn’t going to drastically change the world, Mattmiller said it does help the city government run more efficiently and effectively.
Lee echoed Mattmiller’s remarks, agreeing that fostering partnerships helps the city in the long run become closer to goals of being more technologically advanced and to do so Lee said, “To make a city smarter is to make it more human. It’s already part of us, so when we work on our campus, we look at the things that make us more human. It’s really not that technological,” he said.
One thing Lee said Microsoft incorporates on its campus is the use of shuttles from building to building and making the environment feel more pedestrian and walkable. He said the focus for the future should be around sensors and that less money should be spent on transportation infrastructure and instead be invested in information infrastructure for things like automated cars. The argument Lee made was that by the time ST3 will be complete, it’s likely that autonomous cars will already be around and that by adding sensors, we can leverage technology to make getting around easier with fewer cars on the road.
Lee’s ideas are something that the city has taken into consideration before. Mattmiller said the city has been exploring new technologies with sensors to create a smarter world for drivers. “With 30 percent of someone’s commute spent on looking for a parking spot, why not develop technology that can direct someone to an open spot?” Mattmiller said.
The city could continue to advance and integrate technology into the community, especially surrounding transportation in a number of ways including creating an app that would send real time information to drivers who have parked their car in city designated areas. The app would be able to send drivers updates on how much time is left on their meter or current driving conditions. Part of the problem with establishing and implementing these new technologies have to deal with security and privacy, which don’t come without implications. Mattmiller argued that if the city wants to become more advanced, then it has to be able to track data somehow.
The unknowns surrounding privacy and security leave the city in a tough spot, technologically speaking. Often, the technology is there, it’s just a matter of getting voters on board and working together to bring those ideas to life and to Seattle’s roads.