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Sharing Smart Knowledge

Posted by Terry Beaubois, Guest Columnist

Feb 6, 2018 2:01:41 PM

There’s a lot that India and the U.S. can learn from each other—if we take time to teach it.

Since my last article, I traveled to India for another Smart Villages Conference reflecting the progress made to date in the state of Andhra Pradesh, followed by a visit to an EcoSmart Community that has started construction, just east of Austin, Texas.

Often, I find people in the United States thinking, “oh, poor India,” because much of the news here pertaining to events over there focuses on disasters, floods or train accidents. It’s understandable that we get that impression. But my last stay in India was full of reports of hurricanes in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the earthquake in Mexico. Some people in India might have been thinking, “poor U.S. and Mexico.” It is my hope that through common interests in building smart communities, we can improve international relations and share more best practices in improving our communities, worldwide.

Smart Cities - Andhra Pradesh India 1-300In India, the state of Andhra Pradesh is a leader in “internet dashboards” that connect the government with cities and in-progress villages. In fact, Andhra Pradesh is working on a Blockchain Institute that may work with more Southeast Asia regions and countries, not just Andhra Pradesh and India. Here’s how this and other developing technologies can be applied to the building industry in India and in the U.S.

The Village-City Co-relationship

One of the most significant factors in this year’s recent Smart Villages conference—led by the University of California at Berkeley’s HAAS School of Business and held at K L University near Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India—was the increased size, scope and participation in the Smart Villages project. It is expanding from one village to more than 400. Having participated on this project since December 2015 and now making my fourth trip to India with this team, I’m pleased to see this. With the UC Berkeley project up and running—and somewhat self-sustaining—we will expand the efforts even further.

A key to any undertaking, in any location, in any country, is successful engagement with political, business and academic communities. This has been the case with the Smart Villages India project. The Chief Minister of the State of Andhra Pradesh helped identify the need for Smart Villages (connected to Smart Cities) and is helping to show how this is important in his state. Seventy percent of the citizens live in villages. But lack of sufficient education and jobs are two main reasons people leave them. Cities and villages rely on each other: If the villages collapse, so do the cities, and vice versa.

Continuing government agencies’ important role in encouraging and allowing advancement in the building industry includes hosting sites on the dashboard. These sites help identify companies, product manufacturers, material suppliers and other professionals, so that villages and cities can easily find this information. All of these activities, when people “opt-in,” can be seen by each villager, not just the government agencies. India has created secure identifiers of each of its 1.3 billion citizens, and it is working out how to protect privacy and high security nationwide. Security and privacy are the top concerns of individuals and organizations in smart community management.

The interconnectedness of villagers, and then between villages, and then all villages and then the state, the nation and the world, is a function of improving internet coverage in India. This allows villagers who have never sold products online—weavers, potters, farmers with agricultural products such as rice, cashews, shrimp and coconut—to consider making their products available through websites that the villagers are being taught how to use.

Speaking of communication: I would be remiss if I did not clarify that in addition to contributing my experience and talent to the efforts in India, a primary reason for me being involved in the Smart Villages is for what I can learn about India’s smart community design that can be applied in the U.S. I was asked to clarify that fact in the coursework goals of my Smart Communities course module for “Smart Villages—India” with other lecturers. This knowledge can be of value to communities everywhere. And every time I visit India, I learn things that can benefit communities in the America—just as U.S. experiences can benefit India.

Meanwhile, Back in the U.S....

Smart Cities - WhisperValleySitePlan-v6 300The same can be said with the Whisper Valley project in Austin, Texas. The launch recognized local politicians who helped guide the project to a successful opening, from the perspective of the political climate. The businesses involved in the project were each recognized for their contribution to getting the project underway. In the case of Whisper Valley, the developer, Taurus Development Group, has approached this 7,500-unit development with some innovative ideas, including:

  • A geothermal concept being put in place for all of the houses and buildings in the development. Not necessarily feasible when each homeowner has to consider this individually, the developer has taken the approach to provide this on a large scale and get the benefits of scale.
  • Solar energy.
  • There is fiber optic internet flowing to all houses. You see how good, high-speed connectivity helps villages in India as well as in the U.S. Again, getting the benefit of scale makes a difference when one is planning for 7,500 homes.
  • The same grade of energy-efficient, higher-end appliances will be in all residences.
  • Advanced fire, smoke and safety detection systems installed in all homes.

It is difficult for consumers to select these when they are just options. It is difficult for most builders to include them in their developments. In this project, there is vision in the approach of providing this to everyone as an integral part of the community. This project already has 50 homes under construction—some already sold—and will be growing. I’ll be following this subject and others like this as smart communities continue to develop further. 

Terry Beaubois is an architect in Palo Alto, Calif. He is CEO of the internet startup BKS (Building Knowledge Systems) LLC, and an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University. He presented at the January 2018 Green Builder Symposium in Orlando.

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