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Jesse Berst: Smart cities are the center of gravity for the future

February 23, 2015

A major factor that will determine how sustainable the future will be is how cities implement technology to become more efficient, provide better services and increase resiliency. Jesse Berst, chairman of the Smart Cities Council, thinks that cities aren't just the major factor, but the key to the whole shebang.

"Cities are our greatest challenge," Berst said from the main stage at VERGE 2014 in San Francisco. To give an idea of how big of a challenge cities pose, Berst laid out some data: Worldwide, 5 million people move to cities every month; cities generate 70 to 80 percent of all carbon emissions; and cities produce 75 percent of global gross domestic product.

"This is the greatest economic shift in history," Berst said. "I hope that we'll be able to do it in a very inclusive way that lifts all of us; the disadvantaged as well. And also that we can do it without stealing from future generations."

To address that challenge, the Smart Cities Council surveyed city governments and asked them what was the top obstacle to becoming more sustainable. "No. 1 was access to to innovative financing mechanisms," Berst said. The next top response, he continued, was, "Help us understand how technology can help us work across our departments."

When addressing technology, the Smart Cities Council found that using data and information technology can lead to immense savings and advantages to urban populations. The Council found that smart policing can reduce crime by 20 to 30 percent, smart traffic systems can reduce congestion by 20 percent, smart water use and capture can increase usable water supplies by 20 to 40 percent, smart buildings can realize 10 to 30 percent power savings and using a smart grid can reduce outage by 10 to 40 percent. Digital government services, smart payments that serve the unbanked and open city data can make cities more equitable as well.

"If cities are our best hope for a better future, smart technologies are the path to that better future," Berst said.