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Smart cities

October 9, 2018
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Every month, Pinnacol CEO Phil Kalin reflects on the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation's latest economic indicator report. His position at Pinnacol, with its 57,000 Colorado customers, gives him insight into the business trends - and what they may say about the future.

I recently read an article in the Denver Business Journal about the inaugural Smart Cities Symposium held here. An ad popped up as I was reading, promoting a land auction in a nearby mountain community and noting that the parcel to be sold has senior water rights. You couldn’t have asked for a much more interesting pairing of editorial and advertising.

Why? Well, let’s start with the ad. If you’re not from the West, you might not fully grasp the importance of water for development in Colorado. We live in a high desert ecosystem, and water is scarce. Having senior water rights attached to this parcel mean that the developer who buys (and most likely subdivides) that ranchland can feel more confident of providing adequate water to the homes that will be built.

So what does that have to do with smart cities? The answer lies in the promise of smart city technology, Denver’s emergence as a national leader in developing it and the reasons for that emergence.

Smart cities are all about deploying technology – specifically, the internet of things – to deliver services in urban areas more efficiently and maximize the use of scarce resources. Transportation, electricity, emergency services, water use: anything that traditionally depends on the vagaries of human behavior can now be delivered more efficiently by using predictive analytics and artificial intelligence.

In 2014, Panasonic sited their first smart city project outside Japan in Denver. In addition to testing a solar mini-grid and remote-controlled LED street lights that will minimize energy use at this “CityNow” project, the initiative is also piloting a smart road system to provide real-time navigation recommendations based on current traffic conditions (as if Waze was taking the wheel of your car) and “virtual guardrails” to alert drivers when they drift outside their lanes.

“CityNow” is just the tip of the iceberg of smart city work in Denver. The Colorado Smart Cities Alliance was founded in 2017, the first such effort in the country. It brings together a dozen local governments, our leading research universities, federal labs and leading tech, communications, energy and logistics companies to collaborate on solutions. Many participants in the Alliance are already testing innovations of their own, such as smart traffic signal systems in Denver, Colorado Springs and the suburb Lone Tree.

One member of the Alliance, Arrow Electronics – a Fortune 500 supplier of electronic components headquartered in a Denver suburb – announced at the recent Colorado Smart Cities Symposium that it will launch an open innovation lab at its headquarters where public and private sector players can develop and test these new technologies.

All these initiatives are driven by the twin realizations that Colorado is growing fast, and our resources are not. To meet the challenge of our fast-growing population at a time when our climate is itself changing rapidly, we have to develop and quickly deploy the technology solutions that will reduce our energy and water use, make our roads and highways better able to accommodate more people and figure out how to make it easier and cheaper to build and maintain our housing stock.

Smart cities are the key to all these things. And maybe, some day in future, we’ll see ads touting smart water technology that will make senior water rights less essential.

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