Another sustainable smart city option? Build it from the ground up (and include solar)

Thu, 2016-08-11 10:00 -- Doug Peeples


The concept of building a smart city from the ground up isn't new. Construction on Abu Dhabi's Masdar began in 2006 and planning for South Korea's Songdo "aerotropolis"(it'sadjacent to Incheon International Airport) began in 2003. As impressive and ambitious as those high-tech mega-projects are, neither has met its original completion deadlines and challenges remain.

The story below describes two smaller public-private projects in the U.S. that seem to be equally ambitious: a transit-focused project being developed within five minutes of Denver International Airport and a solar-powered high-tech community in southwest Florida. A key takeaway from both projects is their primary technology partners are heavily involved. Council Associate Partner Panasonic has a major leadership role in the Denver smart city development and IBM has been working with the Florida project's developers for six years. The other takeaway? While still challenging, both projects are relatively small, which seems to be a growing trend. Building a new city from scratch won't suit every city, but you'll likely learn a few things you can apply to your own plans and reinforce some things you already know. — Doug Peeples


The 400-acre Peña Station project, located on a light rail line that connects Denver's city center with the Denver International Airport, is a transit-focused commercial and residential project billed as an aerotropolis. It is intended to be a sustainable development including hotels, retail, entertainment, healthcare and offices—with commercial and travel elements as first priority for the community.

One benefit of Panasonic's leadership at Peña Station
The major tech company already has experience with a similar development: Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town. Smart Town, a 45-acre residential area of 1,600 homes 30 miles from Tokyo. There are big differences, of course. Smart Town is residential and Peña Station is a commercial project tied to the airport. But as VP for Panasonic's City Now George Karayannis was quoted as saying in an article in The Guardian, " We're taking the genesis of Fujisawa and adapting that to Peña Station in an American way."

The project will integrate the variety of technologies we've come to expect from a smart city: smart street lighting and parking, self-driving electric shuttles, high-speed Internet and a 1.3 MW solar plant connected to a microgrid and battery storage installed at an 800-car parking garage, among others. Panasonic also is building an office building it will use, which will be followed by an apartment building, a hotel and restaurants.

Babcock Ranch: an eco-centric solar-powered town
Located between Fort Myers and Punta Gorda in southwest Florida, the Babcock ranch development may be a bit unusual as smart cities go. A collaboration between private developer Kitson & Partners, environmentalists and government bought the former ranch and current wildlife corridor 10 years ago. A total of 74,000 acres was set aside for conservation efforts and 17,000 acres will be used for what developers hope will be a replicable blueprint for sustainable. livable, low-carbon communities.

Building for the 25-year project began at the end of last year and first of a total of 50,000 residents are expected to begin arriving in early 2017, according to The Guardian. Like Peña Station, Babcock Ranch also will feature extensive smart city technology. Council Lead Partner IBM has worked with Kitson since 2010 and is responsible for the design and deployment of giga-speed Internet, several microgrids and an EV sharing program. Florida Power & Light is installing a 75 MW solar plant that will power the city during the day and a natural gas power plant will provide electricity at night.

The challenges will be daunting for such a long-term project: improvements and innovations in technology occur rapidly, as will the expectations of the people who would live there. And Kitson is well aware of it. As the company commented, "The cornerstone of a successful development is the ability to be flexible." its goal is to provide residents with "...the ability to live their lives the way they want to."

Learn more...
Designing and building a successful smart city, whether it's upgrading an existing city or building a new one, isn't easy. As the Ideas to Action chapter in the Smart Cities Readiness Guide explains, Technology is the easy part. Click on the link to learn why a smart city roadmap is essential, elements to consider when planning a roadmap strategy—and read the case studies at the end of the chapter. They offer real-world examples of how other cities have tackled projects such as street lighting, smart grids and improving government interoperability.

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