Smart city: The industry must evolve alongside innovation.

07 September 2017

Joel dandrea

Joel Dandrea, Chief executive officer, SC&RA

As the construction and transport industries wrestle with worker shortages, regulatory challenges, automation and more, an additional disruption is slowly emerging in real time.

As we know, expanding populations put stress on much of a city’s operational mechanics: transportation systems, social services, the many-headed beast that is infrastructure and energy usage. In order to tackle a problem, it often helps to define it first. Across the country, public and private sector leaders are exploring innovation as a way to make cities more efficient in both form and function, and the buzz word of the day seems to have landed: “smart city.”

But the definition is still a bit more elusive than the concept. Many industry representatives have weighed in – comprising a range of assessments, even assumptions. Some descriptions shine a light on technology, and then beyond technology, where a city will actually anticipate future needs and react accordingly for the greater good. Another take might embrace the strength of sustainability – where a city maximizes renewables at its core and recognizes the essence of the challenges that get in the way of its citizens experiencing their best quality of life, and crafts customized solutions in response to those challenges.

Other ideas focus on communication – networks of interaction that utilize, yet again, technology and data to promote economic development, sustainability and respond to the needs of citizens with affordable options to everyday services.

The definition of a smart city can even be simple: “A smart city is a government that uses information technology to improve the lives of its citizens” – said Jennifer Robinson, Director of Local Government Solutions at SAS (

Smart construction

Regardless of how a smart city is verbalized, two things are certain: cities will only get smarter, and someone has to build them. Which introduces another consideration: the construction industry’s role in that evolution.

After all, construction companies will build the infrastructure that will become smart cities, serving populations for decades to come. For that reason alone, the construction and transport industries should have a seat at the table of these conversations – wherever and whenever they occur – to ensure they stay aware of, and have a role in cultivating the methods and innovations that will shape this future.

As Elizabeth Heider, chief sustainability officer for Skanska USA, recently pointed out during a Q&A with ConstructionDIVE, any development/construction company should be paying attention to not only stand-alone technologies, but also IoT (the Internet of Things) and how they connect. She focused on how construction and transport companies need to position themselves (and their workers) to build the structures and infrastructure of tomorrow – projects that need to last for up to a century.

“To look at how technology has changed within my lifetime, anticipating that these buildings will be around double that … developers and builders – especially those that do design-build-operate – need to be engaged in this, and need to be on the leading edge,” she said.

Evolving workforce

But still, what does that mean in today’s language? “How do we make sure the buildings we’re building can withstand more extreme weather events,” Heider continued. “[How do we] look at new business models that connect players that aren’t used to being connected in a one-stop shop? All of that falls under the umbrella of sustainability – to be resilient, to promote health, to have efficient mechanical and electrical systems – it’s all part of the equation.”

And it also means evolving our workforce to be better equipped to labor successfully within an operational ecosystem that benefits just as much from people who can interface with multiple onsite communications systems as easily as they can swing a hammer, move cargo, or pick a load.

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