10.10.10. Cities 2017 Wicked Problems

1. Water Management Systems Lack Flexibility and Transparency

Water supply, water rights and water law determine how we manage and allocate water. Our current systems are slow and lack complete transparency. Can we create a frictionless system encouraging and facilitating water rights trading? How can we ensure long-term sufficient water supply to meet agriculture, municipal and environmental needs when in many instances water is a property right?

2. Imbalance in Allocation of Water

Increasing demands for water coupled with negative impacts of prolonged drought on water supply is leading to greater concern for the sufficiency of our water supply. One-fifth of the world’s population lacks safe drinking water. Many believe that better management of water resources could help alleviate the problem. How do we use water more efficiently for commercial, agricultural, energy, environmental/recreational and residential uses?

3. Lack of Access to Water Data and Actionable Information

Negative impacts of prolonged and periodic droughts, water use inefficiency and growing populations continue to threaten many municipal water supplies (especially in arid western cities), putting their future growth and prosperity in jeopardy. Consumers (e.g., homeowners, commercial users and agricultural users), many of whom are aware of the problem, do not have the information necessary to be part of the solution.

How can we provide real time access to water quantity and quality data to better inform business, public policy and consumer/customer decisions (from retail to consumer level)?

4. Water scarcity

In many municipalities future demand for water may exceed supply. Water scarcity is the direct result of drought, overuse or inefficient use of water resources. How can we create new sources of water through innovation, reclamation and reuse to address the supply side challenge?

5. Water Contamination and Declining Quality

A safe and reliable supply of water is a critical public health issue. Assuring water quality will require multi-faceted approaches, including appropriate infrastructure, treatment and water source protection. Aging water and wastewater infrastructure pose an environmental and public health threat. Moreover, the release of contaminants into our water supply can cause injury that is extremely costly to remedy. Source water protection can alleviate the need for costly treatment and ensure environmental stewardship. How can a community reduce and eliminate surface and groundwater pollution in a cost effective manner with reduced environmental and social impacts?

Water quality is declining, globally; how might we improve water quality from non-point sources (agriculture) and point sources (specific discharges); how do we best manage storm water?

Science keeps improving, and we know more and more about the quality of our water, yet we lack the systems to address new and growing concerns. How can water providers keep up?

6. Lack of Integration/Coordination Between the Built and Natural Infrastructure

Our existing infrastructure is old and in many cases outdated. We cannot afford to rehabilitate or upgrade all of it, and in many cases, we may not want to invest due to inefficiencies or technological advances. Cities need alternatives in order to meet infrastructure needs in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable manner. This will require dual or multi-advantage options that can combine both built and natural infrastructure.

7. Financing to Address Infrastructure Needs

Cities manage considerable infrastructure assets in the form of water treatment facilities, sewer lines, roads, utility grids, bridges, green infrastructure and railways. Each of these infrastructure systems are subject to multiple stressors and shocks. This can come in form of age, replacement rate, financing and natural hazards. Further complicating the situation is the way the different infrastructure systems interact with one another. For example to replace water infrastructure may require navigating natural gas pipelines. This is true for cities of all sizes. The purchase, maintenance, rehabilitation and replacement of these assets has significant cost, environmental and quality of life issues for cities and their citizens. Competition for scarce financial resources and the need to upgrade/replace infrastructure while maintaining city services is extremely expensive and cities simply do not have the necessary funds. Moreover, given societal and technical advances, we do not have to do things the same way we did 100 or even 10 years ago. Real-time, reliable data on the status and efficiency of these asset can spur innovation in how such assets are organized and managed, yielding significant cost-savings, efficiency and safety improvements. How can we cost effectively repair and replace our current centralized aging water infrastructure and develop innovative infrastructure solutions such as decentralized, distributed and off-grid sources and expand use of green infrastructure?

8. Inability to Harness Data for Use in Meeting City Needs

Currently, cities collect and store data on a wide range of issues. While city leaders understand the potential use of data to address infrastructure, planning and service delivery needs, to-date they have been unable to effectively harness the data. Moreover, there is a growing trend toward digital cities, requiring that we harness larger data sets and information and communications technology for personalized information and/or to guide decisions, emergency response and economic development.

How might we harness “big data” more effectively? What data is required to support and improve decision making?

How can additional public data (collected at the federal and/or state level) complement and enhance city data?

9. Lack of Multi-modal, Connected Transportation Infrastructure

Our transportation infrastructure is outdated and in disrepair. Traffic congestion and the pollution it causes plague cities throughout the world. Simply updating existing transportation infrastructure is not enough. Existing infrastructure was designed for 19th and 20th century transportation, primarily the car and train. With the new urbanism recognition of the importance of walkable and bikeable communities as well as the advent of e-vehicles and autonomous vehicles on the horizon, we need to upgrade, replace and redo our transportation infrastructure to ensure efficient movement of people, goods and services.

10. Hurdles in Transitioning to a “Smart City”

A smart city as “an urban development vision to integrate information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of things (IoT) technology in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets.” Smart cities will have the real time data and information they need to operate more effectively and efficiently. Not only do our cities lack this infrastructure, they also lack the expertise, work processes and even workforce to make this transition.