Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley
May 7-9, 2018
Santa Clara, CA
My initial trepidation about having municipalities interacting with the tech industry was kind of well founded; the notion of “Smart” Cities versus “Sustainable & Resilient” Cities, I believe is a real distinction and my personal concern and interest has been the latter rather than the former. Also, I am still very much concerned with human migration rather than merely sustainability and resilience. In the short run, in terms of planetary issues, that is, the current and next human generations, Plan Relocation is still my primary focus even though I realize it is definitely considered to be a contrarian view.
Furthermore, having not been to the Silicon Valley in nearly 26 years was in some ways an eye opener and in other ways more of “business as usual.” I had been to San Francisco and my beloved Big Sur in 2015 so they were not included on this trip.
There are more electric vehicles (EVs) in the state of California than the rest of the U.S. During the conference, the figures ranged from 115,000 EV’s to a high of 250,000 EV’s in California; the second most EV laden state is Georgia with about 25,000 EV’s; these figures are from some of the conference participants and not verified. The price of gas in California is about $1 per gallon higher than my home state of Texas due to a 40 cent additional gas tax in California. That said, the traffic I saw during my four nights in the Valley was even worse than the horrific traffic I experienced when I used to live in Southern Oregon, Los Angeles and flew/drove around the Bay Area pretty regularly during the period of 1991-1993.
Probably the most disconcerting finding I observed was when one of the workers at the Santa Clara Convention Center told me that she uses Uber rather the bus or train to get to work because it is more convenient to take an Uber. Also, the cost differential between an Uber and mass transit must be not significant enough to convince people to opt for mass transit. Perhaps like with de-carbonization the solution lies in taxation or penalizing people from single vehicle usage. When we started the NRF in 2013, we were trying to get investment tax credits for climate resilience rather than taxation of carbon because we felt the former was more positive and less punitive. That effort failed largely due to political disinterest in funding climate resilience and the revamping of the tax code took precedent resulting in a windfall for primarily large corporations to repatriate their capital back into the U.S.
Getting back to mobility — The big discussion revolves around vehicle miles traveled (VMT) versus the ideal shared economy notion of passenger miles traveled (PMT). The phenomenon of transportation network companies (TNCs) is disrupting and transforming transportation and mobility as we know it and the conference points out that most of the mobility innovations date from the 1950s and earlier until the advent of TNCs and the upcoming electric autonomous vehicles (EAVs). The transformation is going to ideally revolve around pooling rather than single occupancy EAVs for it to really relieve the congestion that most major cities around the world are experiencing. There is a real resistance to mass transit solutions due to both economic and convenience issues. The reality is that there is real movement into urban areas and that has to be dealt with in the coming years and decades.
Gordon Feller’s Meeting of the Minds (http://meetingoftheminds.org) seems to get the sustainability/resiliency component better than most and his affiliation with Google is somewhat heartening. The large tech companies like Facebook and Amazon are requiring 100% renewable generation for their data centers, although it seems highly unlikely to become a reality without cost effective battery storage to harness the excess energy generated during peak solar and wind energy generation. An interesting observation that emerged from a Berkeley Lawrence/Dept of Energy panel was that the state of California cannot accept all the daytime solar power generated due to a lack of effective battery storage and the peak energy cost is now 5-9 PM rather than during regular business hours.
I met the Mayor of Racine, Wisconsin during several of the panels I attended and his name is Corey Mason. Corey seems to have a sincere interest to be involved with Smart city development, especially with a 300 acre riverfront development on formerly blighted land on the Root River, known as RootWorks, which is modeled after a similar development in Milwaukee, WI. Milwaukee is becoming hip again it seems with Northwestern Mutual moving its headquarters to the waterfront in Milwaukee. I have always felt Detroit was prime for redevelopment and now the entire Lake Michigan area of Milwaukee/Racine/Kenosha might be viable for Relocation communities. The elevation is over 600 feet in each of these places and there appears to be adequate water, food and energy production possibilities. Incidentally, there are currently about 77,000 residents in Racine today and it is considered the most affordable city in the U.S. With a median housing price of $103,000. Elevated lead levels in the drinking supply dating back to 2014 is a major concern and obviously must be addressed sooner rather than later. http://www.rootrivercouncil.org/get-involved/revitalization-plan/
The conference was hosted at the Santa Clara Convention Center and it felt a little like being in Disneyland in that the City is very clean but surreal-like with its 40 data centers sharing space with 124,000 residents (also reminiscent of Shenzhen, China). One factoid that was posited by the CIO of Santa Clara, Gaurav Garg, was that Santa Clara has its own utility (Silicon Valley Power) and requires more electricity than Manhattan, New York for its data centers. CityPlace, an approved 240 acre $7 billion development with the Related Companies as lead developer has a planned 9.2 million square feet of development, including 1680 residential units, office and retail components right behind the existing convention center off of Great American Way. https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2018/03/23/city-place-santa-clara-related-cos-construction.html.
In conclusion, this trip to the Silicon Valley area appeared to be a cross between the aforementioned Disneyland, Corporate America, Sodom and Gomorrah, well meaning folks in their Teslas and a pinch of spirituality blended in for good measure. In other words, it embodied very well the schizophrenia that permeates our human existence. Perhaps the high point of my trip was a 2 mile trek in Fremont CA (I did not have sufficient water or appropriate clothing to finish the entire 6 mile trek to Mission Peak and back down to the trailhead on the Ohlone Indian Wilderness Trail) up the dirt path following in the footsteps of native Americans dating back to our stone age many thousands of years ago. Here, I felt a much more profound statement about Human and our companion Species’ existence than the 40 data centers of Santa Clara. See the photos below.
Eric Kaufman, Executive Director, Natural Resilience Foundation dba Natural Resilience Fund, Inc. EIN # 46-3156820