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Are we forgetting the poor in a Smart City?

Bobbi Harris's picture

Bobbi Harris is a utility telecommunications and smart city industry expert and the founder of Smart Water, Smart City, LLC. She is a leader in market analysis, strategic intelligence and...

  • Member since 2015
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  • Mar 5, 2015

More than 45 million people, or 14.5 percent of all Americans, lived below the poverty line in 2013, the Census Bureau reported. Median household income barely budged that year, edging up to $51,939 from $51,759 in 2012, the Census Bureau noted separately. Homelessness, poverty and income inequity are apparent in every U.S. city and while serving with a street ministry last week, I pondered the effects Smart City initiatives have on our citizens living below the poverty line.  This is not a political commentary nor do I choose sides on any debate about taxes and government spending. I just looked at my own career and the industry I am so passionate about and wondered, “Are forgetting the poor?”

Spoiler alert: my answer is no.

As I thought about the necessities of life, for all people, smart meters and networked homes did not come to the top of the list. Many of the people I talked with that day cared not if the city bus was fueled by diesel or solar power; and – just like many highly educated people in other industries – the term “smart grid” was not something they used on a daily basis. However, just because the “average” consumer doesn’t eat, sleep and breathe smart city technology like many of us, they certainly reap the unknown benefits of these initiatives.

Smart City tenets include sustainable, green, clean technologies all communicating and gathering (and hopefully sharing) data about all kinds of things like: Transportation, Energy, Health Care, Water, Waste, Economy, Mobility, Government, Environment and Education. If a family or individual is struggling to pay the electric bill or buy groceries, a high-tech life is distant second to sustaining life. What is a Smart City to these folks? How can city leaders include them in the conversation? What can industry do?

Beyond the subsidies and federal programs, the city concentrates on lower income residents daily. Protecting the population of their cities and improving quality of life for everyone is the driving force behind a multitude of city initiatives. These plans will continue sustainable development best practices, promote investment in underserved neighborhoods, and expand fiscally responsible development, which serve all demographics. Clean drinking water access for cities is one such “smart city initiative” that addresses affordability. Some mayors face challenges with water supply scarcity and federal unfunded mandates, while other mayors are concern about drinking water safety, contamination events and long-range planning for water and waste-water infrastructure. Making these types of decision not only provides for the low income residents but the savings from these programs can then be utilized in other areas of the city.

The power of “public-private partnerships” brings the bigger opportunities and make downtown areas come alive. This in turn attracts more new business offering higher paying jobs and supports high-tech incubators in the city as well as science and engineering programs in the public schools. These new public school programs reach kids of all economic levels and opens new doors for those kids which were not previously known.  Then we will have a new generation of citizens expecting smart technology, smart opportunities and smart cities.

So again I look back on my day of service compared with my daily work in the smart city industry – the connection is much clearer: there is benefits to all and hope for the future.  


Bobbi Harris is the President of Smart Water Smart City. Bobbi focuses on environmental issues and sustainability technologies to address water and energy challenges including smart water infrastructure, smart grid, cleantech and green building initiatives.


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