Smart cities: one way to beat a sluggish economy?

Wed, 2015-11-11 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

It's bad enough that cities typically struggle with limited budgets and stretched resources to maintain the services and systems their residents need and expect, but the task is even harder against the background of a sluggish global economy.

Roland BuschRoland Busch is a member of the managing board for Council Associate Partner Siemens with numerous areas of responsibility including energy management and sustainability. He believes smart cities could be one of the primary drivers countries should consider to spur economic growth. He explained why in an interview with The Korea Herald while he was in Seoul to speak during the Construction Vision Forum in late October.

Cities are economic growth engines
"Actually, there are three drivers for economic growth. One is increasing population, and the second is industrial productivity. The third driver is urbanization, another way of productivity, because the urban environment is the most effective and efficient way to provide infrastructure for people," Busch said.

If cities are to successfully leverage urbanization as a driver for economic growth, Busch recommended they should take a smart cities approach to upgrading infrastructure, and consider all of its elements -- from water and energy to telecommunications and waste management.

Busch also made the point that smart cities should be thinking about more than infrastructure and service delivery systems. "People are assets of a city. You have to make people work in a more productive and efficient urban environment." He suggested investments in infrastructure are essential if cities are to be competitive in attracting the talent needed to help ensure economic vitality.

He said Seoul's urbanization is growing, but added "The city's system has to catch up. Otherwise, Seoul will fall behind." The city has been working with Siemens' smart city performance tools to identify the most effective infrastructure investments.

Infrastructure upgrades not terribly expensive, considering…
Funding major developments has always been an issue for cities. However, Busch contended cost should be weighed against the consequences of not taking action. "It is not too expensive to make the city smarter because if you do not move to increase the smartness or intelligence of a city or technology use of a city, it will fall behind other rivals."

Siemens' Busch isn't the only who believes smart cities and people are key to economic growth. Joe Cortright, principal economist and president of Impresa Consulting, had similar things to say during a forum in Astoria, Oregon last week. "We're in a global economy today, and the biggest determinant pf how successful you are as an individual, how successful your business is, how successful your community and state is, is really dependent on the knowledge of the people."

"The recovery is being driven by what happens in urban areas."

While he agreed with Busch about the need for smart and talented people, he took a more homegrown approach and asserted education -- colleges -- should be a major target for investment.

Related articles:
2 things experts say cities shouldn’t ignore
U.S. traffic headaches grow steadily worse, roads alone can’t cure them
New life for old infrastructure: Siemens shows how it's done

 Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.