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Dumb Cities: We're on the Road to Nowhere

Published On
Jun 21, 2018

So many people and high-tech companies are hyping smart cities and smart grids today, but are their messages being lost? Many politicians are repeating buzzwords, but have no clue as to what needs to happen in order to support these types of concepts.

The reality is, we have a lot of "dumb cities" that are serviced by outdated infrastructure and dumb buildings, not to mention managed and mismanaged by administrators and city planners who have no clue when it comes to understanding broadband connectivity or redundant power for mission critical applications (cue music). We have to get everything and everyone back on track.

Before you have smart cities and smart villages, you need smart politicians—not ones still living like it’s the 1950s. They need to understand the need for new power and network capabilities to keep areas economically viable. At best, they are living in the 1950s, if not the 1850s.

They are failing to recognize large paradigm shifts in real estate, infrastructure, technology, and the regional economy development that these converging areas are impacting. Because of their failure to recognize these changes, they are clinging to obsolete building and zoning laws.

You cannot have out-of-date or restrictive zoning laws which inhibit the implementation and use of today’s technology and connectivity, without damaging the long-term economic viability and sustainability of a city or area.

New technologies require a new regulatory framework

Almost a decade and a half ago, I started to discuss the paradigm shift of the three most important words in real estate: "location, location, location" changing to "location, location, connectivity" in an interview for Business 2.0.

In the 2004 article, “Escape from Silicon Valley,” about relocating out of Silicon Valley to a more reasonable area, I said: “People are realizing that bandwidth equals start-ups and jobs. The mantra of those trying to figure out where to start or expand businesses used to be, 'location, location, location.' Now, it’s location, location—and connectivity.”

That was almost 15 years ago! Many municipalities have not made much progress in focusing on the importance to shifting and updating their regulations, laws, and local statutes to support the three most important words in real estate: "location, location, connectivity." Some have given it lip service, but have not been successful in understanding what the economic impact really is on the viability of their community and region.

Does your city have antiquated zoning laws?

There are many who will initially argue against changes in the “quaintness” of their village or town and be against cell towers, dispersed antennae and other network infrastructure. A tower will not bring their property value down as they often assume, it will bring it up because the area will be better served with coverage as well as capacity.

There are ways to minimize the impact of a large structure towering over the tree lines. One way is to put multiple network carriers on it so that instead of three or four single towers are installed in an area, one tower can service all the carriers and minimize any environmental impact or change in any of the local aesthetics (quaintness).

Sitting in on some zoning board hearings as the construction of a cell tower is discussed, you will always see the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) crowds show up. They know absolutely nothing about the value they are receiving by getting a tower built close to their neighborhood and can only complain about all the perceived negative attributes.

As I have told some in meetings, your house value will go up if you have better connectivity and a selection of competitive carriers in your area compared to not having anything. They fail to realize that many people looking to buy houses today are concerned about being able to connect to work and connect to the internet.

If your neighborhood is a digital desert, chances are, many people will find your neighborhood inadequate and pass it up. Eventually, you will get the message when an area that is covered is getting a lot of attention and house sales, and your house is sitting on the market for months.

The same applies to commercial property. Being close to the highway and other transportation (rail, shipping) was important years ago. Being close to the high-speed information highway is important today. Being close to redundant and diverse power sources is also another attribute many corporate site selection committees are looking for.

Clear examples of clueless city management

With many government people touting the transition to high-speed networks providing broadband connectivity in their municipalities and regions, you would think they know a lot about the new 5G networks. You would think they know about what is necessary from an infrastructure standpoint to support these new technologies. They don’t.

Here is a great example from none other than Chicago, a city that is always touting how focused they are on the future and providing broadband connectivity to all neighborhoods. One of their projects is to replace all 288,000 light posts throughout the city. That is a huge undertaking in itself. Whoever is in charge has made no arrangements on how to take care of all the communications equipment that is hanging off of the light posts throughout the city.

Once they get all of it off, where are they going to re-install them? The current light posts are 28 feet high. The new posts that they want to replace them with are only 17 feet high.

Those new posts do not stand above the tree line, so no communications antenna that was hanging on the old one is going to be able to pick up any signal at 17 feet. Where does all that connectivity go?

How much capacity will the city lose in wireless connectivity? Did anyone even think this one through? Did all those making $100,000-plus come up with a planned alternative?

By making a change in one area, did they create a huge unknown connectivity problem for another? I know the answer to that—do you?

About the Author

James Carlini

Contributing Editor

James Carlini, MBA, is a strategist for mission-critical networks, technology and intelligent infrastructure. He has been the president of Carlini & Associates since 1986. He is author of "LOCATION LOCATION CONNECTIVITY," a visionary book on the...

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