Can we designate a city as a “Smart City” if equity is not a central component of the sustainable development goals? Will opportunity be available to all stakeholders in the community? I recently had the honor of moderating a panel for the national NAACP conference for the Environmental and Climate Justice (ECJ) Program Workshop, Bridging the Gap: Connecting Communities of Color to the Green Economy. Where we addressed the issues of equity and opportunity in the “Green Economy”.
Energy Poverty is defined as when a household spends more than 10% of their income on energy costs. In America there are several places shown on a map using census and federal energy data shows where energy costs are 50% of the incomes. The poor cannot afford higher energy costs. Can America fight Energy Poverty with Solar Power? The average cost to install residential solar power is almost $17,000 in 2017. Who living below the poverty line has an extra $17,000 laying around?
As I sit in this session “Defining Smart City Governance — Architectures of Co-creation and Integration” hosted by Georgia Tech’s Serve Learn Sustain we discussed how to frame smart cities and connected communities. This session was apart of the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability 2017 Conference. We collaborated with live feeds from conference sites in Lima, Peru; Baltimore, Maryland; Atlanta, Georgia; and Charlotte, North Carolina. We are faced with the challenges of utilizing big data to build better communities but if were not careful the data can further marginalize frontline communities. How do we avoid system failure? How do we know the difference between good data and bad data? What is the objective of the data accumulation and who owns the data and has access to it? The “machines”, all these millions of sensors connected to the internet of things are monitoring everything from our movement in the cities, the impacts of climate change to geosurveillance. The data gathered from the machines present outcomes to decision makers who often are driven by economic outcomes not human outcomes.
We will not be able to solve the world’s energy challenges unless we are committed to solving the world’s poverty challenges. Building Smart Cities, the Green Economy and Sustainable Development goals cannot be reached without dealing with poverty. Energy Poverty is a crisis that has to addressed just as we address the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. How do we bridge the gap between energy poverty and the green economy?
Smart Cites is a concept that is not coming but it’s already here. Cities all over the globe and in America are in the process of transforming their urban centers into more efficient, resilient, sustainable and livable spaces for citizens to be able to “Live, Work and Play” in. The Smart Cities Council defines a smart city as one that has digital technology embedded across all city functions. The challenge is not just getting these functions to work in sync but how do we “power” everything? The last 8 years the government promoted a Clean Power Plan as the energy solution to build our smart city frameworks. . Is switching energy sources simple as switching one Lego block for another is it “plug and play”.Can cities just swap out their entire electric power grids to renewable energy? Would that be “smart” to do?
In an effort to help achieve the United Nations Global Goals, our coalition focused on goal #11 “SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES” – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Clarkston, GA is a refugee resettlement enclave right outside of Atlanta, Ga. Areas within this Clarkston neighborhood lie outside the Clarkston city and in the unincorporated county, and as a result there is a fundamental lack of any support for regular public maintenance. Currently, the sidewalks and paths our children try to use to walk to and from school (both Indian Creek Elementary and Clarkston High School) have become nothing more than a pile of mud and pine needle detritus a foot deep in places. Join PURE and our partners Georgia Tech Serve and Learn, Friends of Refugees and the King Center for a special service project as we highlight the larger struggle for transportation and pedestrian safety with our county leadership, while modeling the act of taking responsibility for the immediate solution in the midst of seeking a permanent change.
Please watch the video of the service project:
Sustainable Development Goal number 11 has a target that by 2030, “provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.” Is it harder for marginalized populations to “catch a ride” in Smart Cites?
How do we reconcile the virtues of Smart Cities and renewable energy sources such as solar power juxtaposed with lead poisoning in our cities? Solar power is set to grow by 94% in 2016. In the first quarter solar accounted for 64% of new electric capacity additions enough to power 5.7 million homes. Yet at the other end of the spectrum we are seeing lead poisoning proliferate in low income communities of Cleveland, Chicago, and of course Flint.
Forecasters predict there will be over 1.7 Billion connected things in use in our cities by 2018. The Internet of Things (IoT) allows everything from LED street lighting to your refrigerator to communicate and share data. In a move to be more efficient and leverage data municipalities are aggressively planning how to be more connected. The issue is what happens when the humans that are supposed to be benefiting by this technological advancement are left out of the information loop, disengaged and disconnected?