SMART CITY IN THE WORKS NEAR DIA

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ta­mara Chuang

Acommunity de­vel­op­ment next to the new Pana­sonic cam­pus takes util­i­ties and ser­vices to the next, high-tech level.

There is a town 31 miles west of Tokyo where street lights turn on as peo­ple walk past at night.

Rooftop so­lar pan­els power the hun­dred-plus homes dur­ing the day, while fuel cells and bat­ter­ies take over in the evenings at this year-old com­mu­nity on the site of a for­mer Pana­sonic fac­tory.

Pub­lic trans­porta­tion is in walk­ing dis­tance, al­though elec­tric cars and bi­cy­cles are avail­able to bor­row.

And now, this smart-city ex­per­i­ment known as the Fu­ji­sawa Sus­tain­able Smart Town is com­ing to Den­ver from Ja­pan.

Pana­sonic, with its arse­nal of cool tech­nol­ogy, is the an­chor in what aims to be this hemi­sphere’s Fu­ji­sawa. The 400-acre Peña Sta­tion NEXT south­west of Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween pub­lic and pri­vate forces. Ex­pect re­new­able en­ergy, sus­tain­able con­struc­tion, wire­less In­ter­net, a health cen­ter, and shops and restau­rants in­ter­min­gled with com­mu­nity cen­ters, play­grounds, bike paths and one’s work.

But most im­por­tant to many, this new com­mu­nity will be built within steps of the new Peña Boule­vard rail sta­tion, which opens April 22, com­plet­ing the link be­tween down­town and the air­port.

“As we look to hire lots of em­ploy­ees, my dream is that most of my em­ploy­ees will be liv­ing within walk­ing dis­tance. For those who do live some­where else, I want them to be on the train,” said Jim Doyle, pres­i­dent of Pana­sonic En­ter­prise So­lu­tions, which is mov­ing its head­quar­ters to Den­ver this sum­mer. “We re­ally, re­ally want this to be a true tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment. And if ev­ery­one is get­ting in a car and driv­ing, that’s a huge fail­ure.”

Smart cities of yes­ter­day were known for be­ing re­search and de­vel­op­ment hubs, thanks to lo­cal univer­si­ties. To­day, smart cities use data to help the whole com­mu­nity live health­ier— and with a nod to the en­vi­ron­ment.

It helps that tech­nol­ogy is more ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able.

TomMur­phy, Pitts­burgh’s mayor in the 1990s and now a se­nior res­i­dent fel­lowat theUr­ban Land In­sti­tute, re­mem­bers po­lice pulling out a deck of printed pho­tos to iden­tify crim­i­nals. Ad­vances in tools like fa­cial recog­ni­tion has changed that.

“Tech­nol­ogy has made po­lice much smarter, “Mur­phy said. “I can re­mem­ber po­lice would walk into ama­jor drug deal and peo­ple would run away be­fore po­lice could get to them. Adding fa­cial recog­ni­tion, you can match (face de­tails) fast.”

Data col­lec­tion can also im­prove city ser­vices for sim­ple things, like garbage col­lec­tion. Mur­phy said Pitts­burgh saved money by rout­ing driv­ers more ef­fi­ciently through more neigh­bor­hoods. The re­sult was that trucks ar­rived at the dump full in­stead of half empty.

But to meet en­vi­ron­men­tal goals, there needs to be a change in mind-set, said Michael D. Tavel, a se­nior in­struc­tor in en­vi­ron­men­tal de­sign at the Univer­sity of Colorado.

“The most im­por­tant thing in sus­tain­abil­ity re­ally comes down to our en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact per per­son, which are low­est in the dens­est cities,” Tavel said.

Dense ar­eas, like New York City, have more peo­ple tak­ing pub­lic tran­sit and re­ly­ing less on cars, which are some of the big­gest con­trib­u­tors to car­bon diox­ide emis­sions. Ac­cord­ing to a World Bank re­port from2011, the denser a city’s pop­u­la­tion, the less green house gas is emit­ted per capita. Den­ver, for ex­am­ple, had 23.7 tons of CO2 emis­sions per per­son, while New York City was at 8.7.

With­out that mind-set change, ef­forts to live smarter seem wasted. Tavel pointed to Sta­ple­ton, the north­east Den­ver neigh­bor­hood built on the site of a for­mer air­port. The fo­cus was on sus­tain­abil­ity, parks and pedes­tri­ans.

“But it ended up only be­ing a mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tion and im­prove­ment over the sub­urbs in terms of en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact be­cause pretty much ev­ery­one in Sta­ple­ton drives just as much as they do in any other sub­urb,” said Tavel, who is work­ing on a so­lar-pow­ered hous­ing de­vel­op­ment in Ar­vada.

Cities could also fo­cus on their ur­ban core rather than ex­pand­ing to the out­ly­ing ar­eas where pub­lic trans­porta­tion is less preva­lent. But res­i­dents tend to balk at squeez­ing more peo­ple into their neigh­bor­hood, he said.

“It's po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult to in­crease the den­sity of our cities,” Tavel said. “I live in Lower High­land and­work next door to where I live. Peo­ple inmy neigh­bor­hood are up in arms about growth. When­ever we make our cities more dense, peo­ple get out­raged.”

Peña Sta­tion NEXT is dif­fer­ent. It’s start­ing with pub­lic trans­porta­tion be­fore the first house is built. Con­struc­tion on the first mul­ti­fam­ily hous­ing pro­ject is ex­pected to start this sum­mer. And the rest of the pro­ject in­tends to make the en­vi­ron­ment a pri­or­ity, said Cal Fu­len­wider, pres­i­dent of de­vel­oper L.C. Fu­len­wider.

“In this day and age with global warn­ing, etc., etc., why wouldn’t we do ev­ery­thing we can to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that is clean, high-tech and fi­nan­cially vi­able,” Fu­len­wider said. “When Pana­sonic en­tered the pic­ture, all of those pieces fell into place.”

Pana­sonic has taken the lead in defin­ing what makes a city smart. And in Colorado, far from Fu­ji­sawa and a pop­u­la­tion that is four times more dense than Den­ver, Pana­sonic isn’t us­ing the same for­mat.

Cam­era mon­i­tors with ac­cu­rate fa­cial recog­ni­tion? With pri­vacy con­cerns, de­vel­op­ers ex­pect some­thing less ob­tru­sive.

Shared cars avail­able to bor­row? Shut­tles are more likely, plus there will be park­ing garages and lots.

En­ergy-sav­ing street lights that light up only when peo­ple walk by? Too many li­a­bil­ity is­sues here, Doyle said. How­ever, dim­ming the street lights may be a pos­si­bil­ity.

“As Pana­sonic, we knew we wanted to lev­er­age ev­ery­thing over there. But know­ing the cul­ture and nu­ance, we made the de­ci­sion to have a sep­a­rate im­ple­men­ta­tion and style be­cause our cul­tures are dif­fer­ent,” he said. “The key mes­sage is that we’re spend­ing a lot of time and ef­fort to cus­tom­ize this to the unique­ness and char­ac­ter of Den­ver rather than tak­ing Fu­ji­sawa and go­ing plunk.”

Pana­sonic is start­ing with its own foot­print. Its 112,000-square- foot build­ing, which should be ready to­move into this sum­mer, is a four-minute walk to the rail sta­tion. The build­ing will be full of so­lar pan­els to pro­vide power for more than 300 em­ploy­ees.

The com­pany reached out to Xcel En­ergy to build a smart grid to store ex­cess so­lar power in bat­ter­ies for backup use. The grid, ex­pected to be com­pleted by Oc­to­ber, still needs to get ap­proval from the state Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion on Feb. 3.

Chad Nick­ell, Xcel’s man­ager of sys­tem plan­ning and strat­egy, said that the smart grid is solely for Pana­sonic’s use and it’s re­ally more of a demon­stra­tion to see what works and how Xcel will im­ple­ment bat­ter­ies in the fu­ture to all res­i­dents. X ce la ls os eeks ap­proval to test bat­tery stor­age in a Sta­ple­ton neigh­bor­hood where rooftop so­lar sys­tems are com­mon.

“One of the things we’re re­ally try­ing to learn with this pro­ject is that rather than let peo­ple con­nect bat­ter­ies to our sys­tem and us learn­ing on the fly, the key learn­ing is how do we cre­ate in­ter­con­nec­tion rules for bat­ter­ies and cre­ate a ben­e­fit” for ev­ery­one, Nick­ell said. “This is not nec­es­sar­ily open­ing the door for Xcel to be­come a provider of bat­ter­ies.”

Pana­sonic will pro­vide fund­ing for the bat­tery. Both projects will cost ratepay­ers $10 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Xcel.

While Pana­sonic ap­pears to be the com­pany weav­ing all the smart tech­nolo­gies to­gether to cre­ate a co­he­sive plan, the com­pany knows it can’t do this alone. It cred­its Den­ver Mayor Michael Hancock, Fu­len­wider and oth­ers for get­ting the pro­ject this far along.

“At the end of the day, we’re a com­mer­cial en­tity and I would love for the mayor of XYZ city to call Mayor Hancock and say, ‘We’re think­ing of do­ing this with Pana­sonic. Are they rea­son­able? Are they fair?’ ” Doyle said. “I want to get a good eval­u­a­tion.”

An artist ren­der­ing of Peña Sta­tion NEXT, a planned com­mu­nity be­ing de­vel­oped near DIA. Pro­vided by Peña Sta­tion NEXT

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