Chattanooga, Tennessee is breaking new ground with Wi-Fi-capable streetlights. Could Toronto do the same?
Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.
We’re used to the proliferation of smartphones, smart TVs, and smart refrigerators in our private lives, but intelligent technology is also changing the way we manage public space. Chattanooga, Tennessee is installing thousands of wirelessly networked LED streetlights that reduce crime while improving energy efficiency.
Atlantic Cities reports that the City initially installed the futuristic LED lights as a response to gang problems in downtown Coolidge Park.
Individual lights can be brightened or dimmed as needed, meaning criminal activity can be spotlighted. The system can be controlled from the inside of a squad car on the scene. After 350 lights were installed in the park in 2012, crime rates plummeted. Officials were sufficiently impressed enough to order another 27,000 lamps from Global Green Lighting, the supplier, for use around the city.
Because the streetlights are hooked up to Chattanooga’s city-wide Wi-Fi network, they offer other benefits. Brightness can be manually adjusted from a central office, rather than with light sensors or with timers. And the lights can be set to flash in a tornado, or during other emergency situations.
The new lights are also able to automatically report malfunctions to the central office, greatly reducing the need for maintenance checks. They can even tally their own electricity usage and send it directly to the utility company without the need for a meter reading.
The combination of LED lamps and the wireless control capability is expected to save the City about $2.7 million a year.
City officials also point to potential future uses of the combination of Wi-Fi and physical infrastructure (i.e., lamp poles), such as adding other wired tools like cameras, or even air-quality sensors that could alert police to the presence of meth nearby.
Apart from a slight sense of creeping Big Brotherism, the new smarter lights and related innovations present mostly positives, and may well be the way of the future.
Could Toronto be an early adopter?
Don’t hold your breath. Apart from dropping $20 million on the lights, Chattanooga has spent the money to roll out that previously mentioned state-of-the-art, city-wide Wi-Fi network (presently for use by municipal agencies only), which is key to leveraging the new technologies. Traditionally, Toronto has taken a conservative approach to spending money up front to gain benefits down the line.