The Central Roles of Data and Real Estate in Smart City Development


The phrase “smart city” might conjure up visions of the future, but, in fact, many of the key technologies and capabilities are already here. Remote building environmental controls, traffic mapping apps, automated parking systems—a wide range of smart technologies are up and running in municipalities around the world.

The challenge is implementing and integrating them.


The Waze app tracks the best route based on user-generated data.

The complicated road to smart cities

Technological hurdles remain, of course, but one of the main challenges of smart city development is not so much the creation of new technology, but the better implementation and integration of those currently in use.

It’s a matter of “connecting the individual silos that already exist,” says Nicholas Jeffery, director of CBRE’s data center solutions group, using the example of his morning commute into work to illustrate the challenge.

For his drive into London, he might use a smartphone app like Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation system that plots the most efficient route based on real-time traffic data generated by its users. Then, upon entering central London, he pays the city’s congestion charge and makes his way to his office where he searches for a parking space.

With better integration, however, his smartphone app might move from picking the best route to helping him find parking once he nears his office, Jeffery notes.

“The application could tell me, ‘Nicholas, the best car parking space that has space left is not the one you usually go to, please allow me to direct you to another one,'” he says. “And when I get to that space, it is already reserved for me. And when I drive in, the camera recognizes my car and it tags me as arriving at 9:15 in the morning. When I leave, it tags me on the way out and bills me.”

Additionally, the congestion charge system might not only assess the charge, but also gather information on where and when he entered the zone and at what point he left it, allowing city managers to better understand the flows of traffic through the area.

Big data, big payoff

Central to all this, Jeffery says, is the ability to handle, coordinate and analyze the vast quantities of data a well-integrated smart city would generate.

From smart parking to transportation to green and automated office space to the locations of the municipal data centers themselves, real estate is central to the very notion of a smart city.

“People are expecting devices like autonomous vehicles and their refrigerators and home security systems and mobile devices to all be connected,” he says. And that means connecting and processing the vast amounts of data these devices produce in meaningful ways that lead to meaningful improvements in quality of life.

His team at CBRE sees “data as being the beating heart of a smart city,” Jeffery says. “Because without a data center, you can’t collect and store and archive all of the data you are gathering from a smart city.”

He says that he and his colleagues have begun presenting this notion of “data centers as being a big part of a smart city” to leaders of municipalities around the world and have received “an enormous response.” Additionally, Jeffery says, CBRE has gathered into one group resources addressing the full scope of smart city needs, ranging from smart building technologies to labor force analytics. The company is also building strategic alliances with firms that have needed know-how in other areas key to smart city development, like mass transit, for instance.

And while it might, at first, seem curious that a real estate firm would take such a central role in smart city development—as opposed to, for instance, a Silicon Valley tech stalwart—it makes sense once you consider the fact that, as Jeffery notes, much of the data essential to a smart city’s operations “is generated in real estate.”

From smart parking to transportation to green and automated office space to the locations of the municipal data centers themselves, real estate is central to the very notion of a smart city.

Or, as Jeffery puts it, “we want to be the glue connecting all these disparate ideas.”


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