The Platform


The pivot now needs to be on ‘smart regions’ versus smart cities.

Despite the discussions of smart city concepts before 2020, it has taken far too long for major cities and their leaders to adopt and implement these ideas. Now, the original concepts and the technologies designed to support them are obsolete, rendering them of little or no value. Those advocating for smart city concepts must now recognize that major cities are likely to be the last to change, not the first. In fact, with the paradigm shift initiated in 2020 where a significant portion of the workforce began to work from home permanently, the focus for municipal renewal and revival should pivot towards “smart regions” rather than cities.

Since 2020, over 30% of workforce jobs have transitioned to “work-from-home” arrangements. These workers no longer commute and show a strong resistance to returning to their old commuting patterns. With this shift, the emphasis should be on targeting broader regions, not just downtown areas, to focus on smart regions where innovations are developed and implemented across an entire region, not confined to downtown buildings.

The increase in work-from-home employees who are unlikely to return to commuting has implications that cities must consider, especially as they face significant sales tax revenue shortfalls. For example, places like New York City have already experienced multi-billion-dollar shortfalls in recent years.

Another reason major cities may be slow to evolve into smart city status is their high crime rates. Many major cities are plagued by crime, and the first step should be to eradicate crime from downtown areas before undertaking any major renovations on obsolete buildings. No one wants to commute back into a city that feels unsafe.

Moreover, there is a noticeable lack of urgency among many city leaders and commercial building managers to adopt smart city concepts and improve their downtown areas. They seem to overlook the fact that technologically obsolete buildings will not simply revert to “business as usual” and become fully occupied again by tenants.

With high vacancy rates across numerous buildings in major cities, installing sensors to measure air quality or electricity usage seems futile. Cities need to secure leases and encourage companies and their employees to return to these buildings first.

Some cities have also misused funds that were allocated for smart city research on studies that yielded no substantive results or that were funneled to political cronies in exchange for political contributions. These efforts have failed to produce any solutions that could be implemented to address real problems.

Smart cities should not have dumb buildings, which cannot support mission-critical applications due to a lack of redundant power and broadband. The lack of urgency to upgrade these buildings, all of which share this deficiency, raises questions about how cities expect sophisticated corporate tenants to lease space in facilities that cannot support their mission-critical operations. Those sitting on these assets, taking no action, are seeing their properties’ value diminish rapidly.

The emphasis on new modes of transportation is also critical for upgrading cities into the next century. Innovations like drones and air taxis need to be considered and implemented, moving beyond nineteenth-century innovations like trains and light rail.

Smaller, second-tier cities are increasingly focused on economic survival and are enhancing their urban environments to attract and retain new businesses. In contrast, many leaders in larger cities still believe that businesses and corporate headquarters will remain downtown, even as an exodus of companies is occurring.

A new platform for commerce is essential—one that seamlessly connects various layers of everyday life, multiple industries, deliveries, transactions, and commerce. Although smart city concepts promised to address these needs, the promoters of many technologies and custom services have failed to implement much and are now focused on the wrong issues.

Instead of trying to patch together individual applications that cannot communicate, we need a seamless, standardized, networked solution. Unfortunately, digital hucksters are prevalent, selling feasibility studies or whimsical, narrow-based solutions that deliver no tangible benefits.

A solar-powered battery charger for electric wheelchairs at covered bus stops is not going to elevate any city to smart city status. Real applications that impact large segments of the population and contribute to the economic viability of the city are needed. While ADA solutions are necessary, they require a robust backend infrastructure to be effective.

The only seamless solution addressing many 21st-century challenges—from deliveries to data integration of drones, VTOLs, and their destination points at multiple locations—is from DISC (Drone Industry Systems Corp.), which has thoughtfully designed a system solution encompassing everything from the drones to the delivery points, known as vertiports.

“We have conceptualized this solution as a new layer of intelligent infrastructure with a cohesive, all-encompassing design, rather than a fragmented, multi-vendor, piecemeal solution,” says Mike DiCosola, the CEO at DISC.

When it comes to improving commerce in cities and regions, the reality is that 21st-century challenges will not be solved by 19th and 20th-century solutions or obsolete platforms for commerce. New ideas applying emerging technologies must be thought through and woven into the fabric of the infrastructure to ensure the proper assimilation of new capabilities and trade routes supporting the existing platform for commerce.

A packaged, seamless solution based on a standardized “platform for commerce” framework will be the game-changer for cities and organizations, not a collection of single-function sensor packages sold by digital hucksters claiming success while failing to address and solve complex problems. High vacancy rates and crime, as well as inadequate intelligent infrastructure, are the first obstacles to overcome before addressing building issues related to tenant space and other organizational challenges across multiple vertical markets.

The challenges will also not be solved by those educated by obsolete education frameworks focused on learning the three R’s of the Industrial Age (rote, repetition, and routine) in public schools. A broader approach to education is necessary that encompasses ‘fact-based’ education, where new skill sets are learned that better prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. These are the skill sets needed to work on 21st-century challenges.

We will never be going back to the past and back to “business as usual.” Cities and organizations must invest in the future and let someone else maintain the past if they want to remain competitive.

James Carlini is a strategist for mission critical networks, technology, and intelligent infrastructure. Since 1986, he has been president of Carlini and Associates. Besides being an author, keynote speaker, and strategic consultant on large mission critical networks including the planning and design for the Chicago 911 center, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trading floor networks, and the international network for GLOBEX, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University.