CHARLESTON, SC—Cities have long utilized technology and created infrastructure networks in order to deliver needed services to their citizens. Now, so-called “smart cities” are building on their infrastructure foundation by collecting and employing data in order to improve and refine their operations.
Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Morris Ellison has worked closely with participants in the smart cities area and has written a new article on “Smart Cities: Issues & Opportunities to Consider” for Real Estate Issues.
Smart city initiative spending reached $21 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to $158 billion in three years.
“But how much of those funds are well-spent? Cities are ill-equipped financially and structurally to adopt smart technologies without private-sector involvement,” Ellison said. Data, not the infrastructure itself, is the currency of the smart city and cities are generally poorly equipped to cope with this fundamental change.
Public-private efforts can yield results. An early example is the E-Z Pass system, which utilizes RFID devices to allow drivers to travel through toll booths without stopping, has greatly improved efficiency on highway toll booths.
More innovation is on the way, driven by Internet of Things (IOT) and 5G technology, Ellison said.
“The speed of change is only accelerating. 5G, or fifth-generation technology, is 100 times faster than 4G, which, combined with IOT, effectively puts computers on the network’s edge. For example, sensors can be employed in everything from lane lines (aiding autonomous vehicles) to trash cans (indicating they need to be emptied) to leak-detecting sensors that make water, sewer and drainage pipes self-monitoring,” he wrote.
Because so many of these efforts are driven by the private sector, Ellison said smart cities must work with private sector technology developers. Key decisions have to be made by all parties. For example, a downtown parking app for urban drivers may cost a city and its taxpayers little or nothing. But a new lighting or smart transportation system could cost many millions.
In addition, cyber protections are an often overlooked aspect of smart cities protection. Data collection using smart city technology can improve efficiencies for customers, but it also can put their personal information at risk. Pending legislation in Congress would require commercial users of facial recognition (FR) data to obtain customer consent before their data can be collected and shared.
Ellison said the WannaCry cyberattack of 2017, which impacted more than 100,000 organizations in 150 countries, is an example of what can go wrong.
“Imagine the impact of a cyberattack on a city whose transportation or water system depends on 5G technology,” Ellison said. “A smart city must not only pay for the cost of installing smart technology, but also the cost of protecting these applications from cyberattack.”
Morris Ellison is a partner with the law firm of Womble Bond Dickinson where he chairs the firm’s Smart Cities practice in North America. His practice includes commercial real estate transactions, commercial litigation, tax appeals and economic development. He represents local, national and international investors, lenders, and real estate developers in the development, financing and disposition of commercial properties and other assets as well as entity disputes.