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April 22, 2019

Smart Cities: Innovative Solution to Rapid Urbanization Challenges

By Dr. Stephen Aikins, Associate Professor & Program Director, Public Administration

Currently, about 50% of the world’s population live in urban areas and some experts predict that this will increase to 70% by 2050. Studies show that although cities occupy less than 2% of the landmass of the earth, urban residents consume over three quarters of the world’s natural resources and are primarily responsible for green-house gas emission. Smart cities are becoming an innovative way of helping to address the challenges of population growth, such as traffic congestion, aging infrastructure, environmental pollution, etc.

In simple terms, a smart city is a city that leverages information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve its operations and quality of life for the benefit of its citizens by making its services more flexible, efficient, and sustainable, while remaining economically competitive. In general, a smart city is made possible by advances in technology that enable real time monitoring of desired metrics and data analytics for quick response and effective city management. These technological advances enable efficient operations of smart city components, such as smart infrastructure, smart building, smart transportation, smart energy, smart healthcare, smart technology, smart government, and smart citizen.

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Technological Backbone of a Smart City

For a smart city to operate successfully, it needs smart infrastructural backbone, of which ICT infrastructure is paramount. ICT infrastructure includes communication infrastructure, such as fiber optics and Wi-Fi networks, as well as service-oriented information systems. These form the backend of a smart city and make other infrastructures, such as rapid transit systems, power supply systems, water supply systems, waste management systems, hospital systems, and buildings smart. The smart infrastructure may have physical infrastructure, sensors, firmware, software, and middleware as its overall components. The middleware is a type of software that plays a crucial role in automation and quick response of smart infrastructure by accumulating data and combining them into a common platform for analytics, reporting, efficient city decision-making, and service delivery. The Internet of Things (IoT)—a network of interconnected physical objects (called "things"), including computers, smart phones, sensors, actuators, wearable devices, homes, building structures, vehicles, and energy systems—is a key technical backbone of smart cities because devices in the IoT objects transmit the data accumulated by the middleware for analytics to help realize the benefits of smart city operations.

Selected Benefits of Being a Smart City

Being smart has several benefits for a city:

Economic Development: Deployment of smart technologies does not only improve effectiveness and efficiency of services, but it also brings new "eco-friendly" jobs. Investments in smart city technology in North America are expected to increase from $118.5 billion in 2016 to $244.5 billion in 2021, according to BCC Research. A recent report by ABI Research predicts the positive impacts of smart city technologies on economic development could see cities locking in incremental growth of over 5% and driving more than $20 trillion in additional economic benefits in the coming decades. According to the report, public investments in smart city technologies could have multiplier effects of up to 10 times, with a potential incremental GDP growth of $10 trillion. Additionally, smart city technologies will lead to Structural Smart Urban Economic growth, with an expected increase of 2.8% by 2026.

Evidenced Based Decision-Making: As stated above, the data analytics made possible by middleware enables city officials to gain access to useful information for real-time monitoring and effective decision-making to enhance the lives of city residents.

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More Efficient Transportation Services: Smart transportation technologies can lead to road safety, traffic and parking management, traffic flow optimization, and offer riders the ability to track bus and train locations and schedules. Under a partnership between the US Department of Transportation and the Tampa Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, the City of Tampa has piloted a deployment of Connected Vehicles that allows vehicles, roadside infrastructure, and mobile devices to communicate with each other to provide improved safety and mobility solutions enabled by connectivity. The city of Chicago made the city’s public transportation system easier for residents by launching a mobile application that enables citizens to track vehicles in real-time, view updated bus and train schedules. and make payments online.

Improved and Cost-Effective Public Utility Services: Smart sensor technologies are increasingly changing the way public utilities and infrastructure are managed to reduce costs and enhance safety. Data analytics and smart sensor technologies have enabled the conservation of valuable resources to help meet human demand by reducing inadvertent waste of water and electricity. For example, smart sensors allow city utility personnel to quickly identify leakages in pipes and address them to reduce waste. Smart electric grid allows for two-way communication between electricity providers and consumers about peak usage and outages to help consumers track their usage and make modifications to save costs. A pilot smart metering technology in the city of Cape Town, South Africa tracked customers’ water usage, relayed that data to their accounts, and sent itemized daily bills to the customers. This resulted in about a 50% drop in residential homes water consumption and savings for customers.

Safer and Better Infrastructure: Smart technologies can help cities have huge savings by upgrading and maintaining aging infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and buildings through predictive analytics that identify areas that need attention and remediation to avoid infrastructure failure. This is made possible by smart sensors that transmit data on structural defects, such as cracks in bridges, to help notify appropriate city personnel to address the problem.

Selected Challenges of Developing Smart Cities

Despite the benefits, there are also challenges that affect smart city development and the evolution of the smart city market. Studies show that although some new government initiatives have resulted in increased smart city activity in recent years, the global smart city market is still at an early stage and most smart city projects are either trails or cover only parts of the city. A recent smart cities survey report released by the US Conference of Mayors suggests that although there is strong support from government leadership at the local, regional, and national levels, securing financial support for long-term projects remain a challenge. The report reveals that the two key challenges faced by cities are: ensuring the city will have the financial resources to sustain the smart city project over time, and securing sufficient funds to start the project. Other challenges identified include aligning multiple city departments and stakeholders, overcoming citizen and business concerns over privacy and data sharing, finding appropriate ICT solutions, and developing necessary relationships with appropriate private sector solution providers. Studies conducted in other parts of the world also identify poor public-private participation, high IT infrastructure and intelligence deficit, and lack of citizen involvement as some of the barriers to smart city development. Effective smart city development calls for measures to overcome these challenges.

Overcoming the Challenges to Smart City Development

To address the funding challenges, cities need to consider public-private partnerships and develop long-term funding opportunities for their smart city projects. Some of the existing business models that must be considered in this regard are the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT), Build-Operate-Comply (BOC), and Municipal-Owned-Deployment (MOD). Under the BOT model, city authorities work with a private sector partner who funds and develop the services, deploys the smart city infrastructure, and operates it until it is transferred back to the municipality. Under the BOC model, the municipal authorities provide the initial source of funding as well as a platform for smart city development to enable the third party to develop the services and deploy the infrastructure, while complying with stipulated regulations. Under the MOD model, the municipality develops the services and deploys the smart city infrastructure to achieve the city’s intended goals. Cities also need to implement project management methodologies that include appropriate communication and stakeholder consultation strategies to bring interested parties on board, and to deploy up-to-date privacy and cyber security solutions to address citizens and business concerns. Finally, in order to realize the potential of smart cities as innovative means of resolving urban challenges, cities need to engage experts to examine their unique circumstances, and their IT infrastructure needs to ensure appropriate investments are made to help form the backbone of the smart city development.


April 11, 2019

Human Security Challenges in eSwatini (Swaziland)

By Dr. John Daly, Associate Professor, Public Administration

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A King celebrates his birthday wearing his diamond laced sports jacket and flashing his 1.6 million dollar watch. No, this is not the King of Monaco, it is the King of eSwatini (the new name for the country of Swaziland that his Majesty King Mswati III renamed last year at the time of his 50th birthday). Royalty does have its privileges, even in this small, lower-income country that is roughly the size of New Jersey and has a population of 1.4 million people (similar to the population here in Hillsborough County).

Leadership, however, even in this case should warrant greater restraint in terms of "in your face" flash. One would expect a bit more of an understated stance, especially in this southern African nation where 70% of the population earns less than $2 a day; where more than one in four (26%) of its adult population is HIV positive (highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world); where 38% of its children are orphaned or vulnerable, meaning they have lost one or both parents; and where many of the nation’s children are physically stunted due to a lack of the necessary nutritional adequacy to sustain normal growth patterns expected of healthy children.

My point is not to criticize eSwatini’s monarchical leadership, rather it is to set the stage to briefly discuss the research that I am embarking on, while on sabbatical leave, this coming Fall term as a Visiting Research Scholar with Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. In Fall 2019, I will be focusing my research efforts on the study of Human Security in eSwatini, and neighboring southern African countries, in the hopes of identifying methods for mitigating human insecurity—in particular among children who are unable to take control of their own lives to sustain levels of human rights and dignity that we all deserve.

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Scholars and practitioners have usually placed their emphasis on either military security or on economic security. While both security types are necessary for the safety and benefit of societies, they are only the foundation of security needed to individuals, within their communities, with minimal levels of human rights and individual dignity. Beyond traditional forms of security, human security serves as an extension of basic human rights. It asks the question of how do we individually, as a nation, and as a global community seek to ensure basic levels of rights and protections that demonstrate the value of each human being. Human security, as identified here, can quickly become boundary-less in its scope, and certainly researchers in human security often focus on one aspect rather than "eating the whole elephant" all at once.

I anticipate that my research will address the following: food security, health security, gender rights, educational security, and freedom of association, speech, and religious beliefs. Within the scope of this research I will assess the current levels of human insecurity facing many in the "Swazi" society. Recommendations for change, in terms of reshaping public policy and prevailing cultural attitudes, will also be addressed through my research in the hopes of elevating human security outcomes and dignity of life for the two-thirds of the Swazi society currently living impoverished lives, both in traditional and human security terms.

I also anticipate a brief trip to eSwatini during the Fall term to conduct field research with Swazi government and nongovernmental officials; this research will contribute to a book I’m writing on human insecurity, and how some of the causes for such can be mitigated within the Swazi society.

A doctor in eSwatini once told me "we fight the good fight;" that sort of optimism and commitment suggests that there can be a better future in sight for this beautiful country.


April 1, 2019

Flooding and Climate Change

By Dr. Mark Hafen, Master Instructor & Program Director, Urban and Regional Planning

Back in May 2017, I read an opinion piece in the Tampa Bay Times. The piece concerned me for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it made ZERO mention of how sea level rise is going to make the already-problematic flooding in South Tampa worse. Tampa Bay is rising, as are the rivers that flow into it, and no amount of refitting of our stormwater infrastructure is going to help in the long-term, if all we're trying to do is move urban runoff to the Bay and the rivers.

Second, I was struck by the surprise expressed by one city official that, before Tampa became the city that we see today, there once were natural features surrounding the Bay in South Tampa. This is a common observation among many people I talk to. They look around at our built environment and seem to have no sense that it was placed atop natural features, with little thought given to the future consequences. Most people assume that what they see has always been there, and then wonder why it doesn't seem to be adapting very well to our changing weather and climate.

Tampa Bay was once surrounded by mangroves, marshes, and tidal creeks. Indeed, if you walk along W. Bay Street in Tampa, where it intersects with iconic Bayshore Boulevard, you'll see a historical marker commemorating the Spanishtown Creek community, one of the first European settlements in the area. That's Spanishtown CREEK. There was a CREEK. If you want to see where that feature once was located, you need only look at where the standing water lies after heavy rains in the blocks to the north. Those low-lying areas are likely the remnants of the creek bed, long since paved over.

We have placed impervious surfaces over much of the immediate watershed surrounding the Bay, which has also altered the flow of the rivers—the Hillsborough, Alafia, and Little Manatee—into the estuary. We have attempted to channel the excess runoff into stormwater pipes leading to the rivers and to the Bay. This runoff flows there much more quickly (sometimes overwhelming the stormwater pipes) than it would have, had it been allowed to infiltrate the soil and percolate to groundwater, or to enter as slow base flow into the wetlands, creeks, and rivers.

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Figure 1: Bayshore Boulevard. Tampa during Tropical Storm Debby in 2012 (author's photo).

Sometimes, during high tide and a heavy thunderstorm, you'll see stormwater spouting up out of the manhole covers along Bayshore Boulevard like little fountains. The water has nowhere to go, and that road often floods, especially during tropical storms and hurricanes (Fig. 1).

As sea level rises, the saline water of the Bay not only makes its way farther into stormwater outfall pipes, but also intrudes into the rock and soils beneath our built environment. Thus, the fresh water that does infiltrate into our lawns and green spaces encounters that denser saltwater and, again, has nowhere to go. During our summer rainy season, the surface soils quickly saturate and remain that way. So subsequent rains send more runoff into our streets and into the stormwater system.

City and County agencies are working diligently on adaptation measures for these problems. Citizens recently agreed to an additional fee on their property taxes in order to provide funding for much-needed maintenance and replacement of stormwater infrastructure. Evidence of those projects can be seen all around the city, especially in South Tampa, where flooding is such a problem. In addition, the stormwater outfall pipes around the bay are being cleaned of sediments, barnacles, and oysters that clog them and slow water flow. Pumps have been installed along Bayshore Boulevard to move further upstream some of the excess water during heavy flows, to lessen the volume and provide a time delay.

Certainly we need these adaptation measures right now; replacing and improving stormwater drainage is an absolute necessity. But our flooding situation is going to get worse. We must take sea level rise into account, as well as the effects of "compound events," combinations of intense rainfall, high tides, storm surge, and other contributors to flooding that are exacerbated by rising seas. And we need long-term, resilient strategies that address this.

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Figure 2: Students working in a riparian wetland along the Hillsborough River in 2012 (author's photo).

The water needs somewhere else to go besides into the Bay. Natural infrastructure, like living shorelines, wetlands (Fig. 2), bioswales, rain gardens, green roofs, and other nature-based strategies will help keep some of the water out of the sewer system, as well as make our community more resilient to climate change impacts.

This semester, students in my Land Use Planning class are working on nature-based adaptation policy recommendations, which they will present to Manatee County at the end of the semester. This is part of a project being led by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council to assist the County in becoming more flood resilient. In addition, students in my Planning in Coastal Communities course are working on flood hazard mitigation strategies as part of a larger project for Tampa/Hillsborough County, led by the USF School of Architecture and Community Design.

Exciting work for our students, which will make a difference in how the Bay area adapts and becomes more resilient to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise – especially to flooding.