Opinion: Keep an eye on Tampa's invisible infrastructure to see city grow

Source: TBO.com on April 27, 2017 | Chelsea Collier, Special to the Times

When you search online for images of a city, chances are you'll find pictures of buildings, roads, bridges and lights. It's natural to think of a city in terms of its physical infrastructure. But today, we are in the emergence of a new digital reality in which a city's invisible infrastructure is just as important as the physical.

The United States is quickly emerging in the global smart city race. A smart city is essentially how connected technologies can enable greater efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of city operations. In a smart city, data is collected, stored and transmitted in real time, as long as you have a robust communications infrastructure.

Tampa has several unique areas that highlight its potential to emerge as a smart city. More than 37 million tons of cargo pass through Port Tampa Bay each year. Smart city technology can offer benefits in this scenario through streamlining communications with maritime fleets to expedite shipments, in addition to bolstering port security applications such as monitoring hazardous material leaks or ship safety zones.

These benefits are all possible thanks to the Internet of Things, or the ability for devices to collect and automatically transmit data, which again all depend on advanced wireless capabilities. The advent of a next generation 5G wireless network will magnify Tampa's capabilities, delivering faster connectivity. 5G, which is the next evolution of the 4G network that our mobile phones run on today, is already being tested, planned and deployed in markets all across the U.S. and the world.

The many benefits of advanced wireless capabilities seem obvious but are, in fact, far from automatic. There are hosts of players involved in transforming a city's operational processes including overhauls of new and existing infrastructure. It is an incredibly time-intensive and overwhelming process. But there are road maps toward success.

First, simply opening up the dialogue between the public and private sectors is crucial. Smart cities are based on collaborative partnerships that help align ideas, vision and expectations. In cities across the country, these partnerships are the difference in whether a city can create an effective action plan. Tampa is providing a great example of this very point. Under Mayor Buckhorn's leadership, this area is effectively cultivating many public-private partnerships through programs like Enterprise Florida to bolster the city's economic outlook and increase its attractiveness for outside investors.

Second is a thoughtful and practical policy framework. Oftentimes, proposals for replacement of existing infrastructure are met with tedious municipal regulations and policies that prevent the needed modernization. In a time when every city is racing to become a smart city leader, this is a serious issue. Policy makers, regulators and city officials should work together, and with stakeholders and technology experts, to create and implement policies that allow next generation technology to reach its full potential.

This is just a snapshot of the much larger list of ways to achieve smart city success. The most important thing is to have the desire to start the dialogue and work effectively together across multiple platforms to implement a smart city's foundational pillars including more robust broadband capabilities.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn noted in his "Buckhorn Plan" that a leading goal of Tampa is to ensure it is "the city that everyone in America talks about as a place that is on the move." This area is well on its way toward achieving that, and recognizes the unequivocal role next generation technologies plays in the process. All residents of Tampa should be excited, because the future that's coming is anything but status quo.

Chelsea Collier is the founder of Digi.City, a website featuring her research on digital technology and policy in U.S. and Chinese cities. Digi.City was scheduled to moderate a roundtable Friday, April 28, at the University of Tampa.

First, simply opening up the dialogue between the public and private sectors is crucial. Smart cities are based on collaborative partnerships that help align ideas, vision and expectations.

Read more here