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Smart Regions Bring Together the Best of All Worlds

image credit: ID 61351554 © Anyaberkut |

Smart cities are an innovative concept that many large metropolitan areas are already working toward, or have achieved to some degree. Smart cities offer benefits like streamlined transportation, efficient energy distribution, and enhanced crime prevention. But, enabling a network of separated smart cities may not be the most efficient use of these technologies. A recent Forbes article states, “Often overlooked in the enthusiasm around smart cities and next generation transit…are the needs of suburban and rural communities.” It suggests that we “[abandon] the current smart cities paradigm that envisions islands of prosperity and technological sophistication connected by advanced transit systems that skip over rural America for a vision that champions smart regions.”

Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide

The Forbes article goes on to point out that non-urban communities have much to offer society as a whole, and making their resources available while connecting their residents to the benefits of urban areas is economically and socially wise. In the regional model, cities would still serve as hubs for smart community technology, but the technology would extend much further than the cities themselves. Benefits would include:

  • Easier access between and within urban and non-urban areas
  • Automatic shifts in power distribution based on the needs of the entire region
  • Autonomous delivery networks
  • Safer neighborhoods and more affordable housing
  • Cleaner air and water
  • Lower crime rates
  • Lower poverty rates
  • Increased employment and hiring opportunities

Beyond Technology

The Greater Washington Board of Trade (GWBOT) recently put out a report describing its own efforts to develop a smart region encompassing the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia. The authors are careful to explain that a smart region doesn’t just mean technologically smart. “Being a smart region is far from simply achieving the quiet hum of digital utopia…. The goal is to create effectiveness, make an area more livable and, thus, desirable…. Technology is not necessarily always part of the ‘smart’ formula as much as the necessity for innovative ideas.”

The GWBOT report notes that the Greater Washington region is already working toward a variety of smart solutions. Through various initiatives and grants, it is examining technology solutions for air pollution, flood prediction, rapid emergency response, improved citizen services, expanded broadband access, and more.

The Role of Utilities

Because utilities typically serve regions rather than individual cities, they’re well positioned to support and even lead the development of smart regions. Additionally, utilities are already in charge of some of the infrastructure required for these efforts, including power distribution and smart meters. Some of this equipment can be converted to smart devices, to perform various monitoring functions, with the addition of sensors. Utilities also have experience with things like big data collection and analysis, integration of renewable energy sources, and community engagement — all necessary components of a successful smart region effort.

Utilities involved in providing smart city services could expand them to include entire regions. To become involved in smart region development, utilities need to coordinate efforts with governments, organizations, citizen groups, and other vendors to develop and deploy high-level solutions. Again, the focus must be on the benefits these solutions can provide, rather than on the solutions themselves.

While smart cities address many challenges that confront citizens and governments, smart regions may be able to do more to address larger-scale issues, such as traffic, air quality, and emergency response. And, according to the Forbes article, given the rifts between the seemingly incompatible cultures of urban versus non-urban areas that have been so much a part of cultural discussions in recent years, smart regions may have the added benefit of “restoring a sense of national unity.”

What do you know about smart regions? Please share in the comments.

Karen Marcus's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 29, 2019 11:22 am GMT

Interesting topic, Karen. I wonder if there are any specific challenges with embracing the smart region vs. the smart city when it comes to central jurisdictions funding and pushing them? A city board or mayor can prioritize and move towards a smart city, but when looking at a smart region it would likely take cooperation across multiple jurisdictions and policymaking bodies, a challenge that's rarely easy

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Jul 29, 2019 2:37 pm GMT

Great question, Matt. Sounds like a good topic to look into for a future article!

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