Ed note: This article is part of a short series on financing smart city infrastructure, sponsored by Siemens. Please join us for a live Google Hangout with Siemens, PwC and Berwin Leighton Paisner on June 12 at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET, where we’ll talk about this issue live!
If you were to watch a time lapse video of the history of human civilization, you would see something like this: Small bands of humans moved from hunting to agriculture, consolidating, and then developing all kinds of technology at a gradually increasing rate. Improved food security led to rising population levels which, in turn, led to more innovation. All of this is punctuated by numerous wars.
In more recent times there has been a massive migration into cities, leading to highly concentrated metropolises. If you were to look closely, you would also see a redistribution of power and resources. Where it was once almost exclusively held by ruling classes and governments, it is now being increasingly shared with businesses and an investor class. Now we find ourselves with resource scarcity, a disrupted climate and cities looking to find a way to manage their swelling ranks at a time of receding government support.
A new report, entitled Investor Ready Cities, jointly produced by tech conglomerate Siemens, consultancy PwC and law firm Berwin, Leighton & Paisner, looks unblinkingly at these trends and proposes a way forward through increased collaboration between cities, businesses and investors.
The main thrust of their argument centers on the notion of infrastructure value. It first challenges and then provides guidance to city officials to develop the “legal and governance structures that need to be in place to provide the necessary security and certainty to the investment community that will encourage them to invest in infrastructure projects.”
This is because, “Cities with the appropriate foundations of institutional stability can leverage financial mechanisms to their advantage to help deliver the infrastructure that is so critical to their future.”
This public-private partnership approach is a compelling path forward in today’s world, addressing the simultaneous challenges of:
- Aging demographics requiring and benefiting from costly health care
- Populations that are growing, causing crowding and rising costs — or in some cases shrinking and leading to collapsing housing markets and lost tax revenues
- Industrial presence that is, in some cases, growing and causing pollution, while in other cases withdrawing leading to significant job and tax revenue losses
- Catastrophic weather events exposing the inherent fragility of many infrastructure systems including energy, transportation, water and food distribution
All this is happening at a time when government budgets are under pressure — and private money has sought safety on the sidelines — while at the same time new wireless communication, energy, sensing and computing technologies are providing unprecedented opportunities.
The report lays out a number of ways forward, citing numerous case studies, towards:
- A fast and efficient transport and mobility infrastructure with sufficient capacity to cater for growing and changing populations
- A robust and reliable energy infrastructure providing power to meet the most critical needs
- A clean and plentiful water supply
- Sanitation to deliver modern standards of hygiene efficiently and sustainably
- A safe and secure environment in which people can live and work with confidence.
Getting there requires cities to develop strong leadership and in the process, to learn to speak the language of business. Doing so will provide tremendous collaborative opportunities to help them serve their citizenry in a highly effective manner — turning these multiple challenges into a positive disruption that can, if done properly, be synthesized in a higher quality of life for everyone involved.
Image courtesy of Siemens
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and freelance author. He writes for numerous publications including Triple Pundit, Justmeans, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, and Energy Viewpoints. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails. He sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.