Technology and the City of the Future

How will the city be shaped by ever-changing technologies in the areas of transportation, energy and the environment and how can we be leaders in that transformation?

The following is from the blog of this panel discussion, "Technology and the City of the Future," which was part of SMU's Centennial Academic Symposium on Nobember 11, 2011. The entries were posted in brief increments as the discussion progressed and have not been edited. The times indicate when the entries were made.

The panel was asked to discuss "How will the city be shaped by ever-changing technologies in the areas of transportation, energy and the environment and how can we be leaders in that transformation?"

The panel was moderated by Geoffrey C. Orsak, dean of SMU's Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering; and included Hunter L. Hunt, chairman and CEO of Hunt Oil Company; Betsy del Monte, FAIA, LEED BD+C, principal and director of Sustainability at The Beck Group; Arthur L. George Jr., senior vice president and manager of Analog Engineering Operations at Texas Instruments; William T. Solomon, retired chairman and CEO of Austin Industries; Robert L. Zollars, president of Huitt-Zollars Inc.; and session chair Bijan Mohraz, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Lyle School.


Welcome back. Our next panel is on "Technology and the City of the Future."


Dean Orsak is offering some opening remarks.


Orsak: I know you're all scared of a panel full of engineers!


Orsak: Dallas is a city that really shouldn't be. There are few natural resources except the spirit of the people.


Orsak: Three big projects have defined the city, I think - the levee system, the airport, and DART light rail, which really has the potential to move us forward. So I'd like to ask Bill Solomon to offer some thoughts on where technology can take us from here.


Solomon: You see over and over again in Dallas' history that the can-do spirit of the people have carried the city forward.


Solomon: Dallas became a transportation hub with the railroads in the 19th century. Early technology around transportation has been a big part of the city's history.


Solomon: The State Fair and Fair Park, the location of the Federal Reserve, both were developments that helped differentiate Dallas from other cities and get us where we are today.


Zollars: Global developments such as the re-engineering of the Panama Canal will have a great impact on Texas.


Zollars: The future will be 24-hour delivery around the world. Right now, at DFW Airport, we have runways capable of non-stop flights to Asia.


Zollars: But the cheapest way to send goods is still by boat.


Orsak: Hunter and I were talking about the intersection of the oil industry and water. As someone who works in the energy sector, I'd like for him to talk about energy and the future.


Hunt: There's a huge correlation between energy use per capita and GDP per capita. That's intuitive - as people make more money, they use more energy. And with the massive global trend of people moving from rural areas to cities, it's causing greater and greater demand for energy.


Hunt: Texas is blessed to have wind, sunshine and natural gas as alternative-energy resources. The fly in the ointment is water. It's critical to oil and gas production, but it's also essential to human life. We have to plan for preserving both these resources.


George: When you look at the history of TI and Dallas and the advancement of technology, it all started with one talented engineer who wanted to live here. What do you see here now? There are more and more talented people who want to live here. At the bottom of that is leadership - in mass transit, in engineering, in technology. Our future transformation will be about great leaders who happen to embrace technology.


del Monte: It's not too great an aspiration for Dallas to become a net-zero environmental city. The challenge is understanding ourselves. We have no natural boundaries - rivers, mountains. We can grow all the way out to Oklahoma, and sometimes I think we're trying to!


del Monte: We're challenged to make use of infrastructure we already have in place and maximize that.


del Monte: Many of our local design firms, including our own, don't have their own research departments. We look to universities to provide that engine of knowledge.


Zollars: I don't think we're anywhere near achieving net-zero energy use. The technology just isn't there yet.


del Monte: That's what happens when we go about it backwards. Simple things like not turning on a light when the sun is shining aren't as attractive as advanced technology. We can start teaching in K-12 about how to save energy in simple ways.


Hunt: Technology is a powerful tool. If you started shifting it away from high-end uses and used it more for lower-income users, who actually have a great need for saving money on energy, you might see a much wider adoption of these technologies.


Solomon: We're so spread out into separate communities that need to be more integrated and connected. Transportation figures in a big way, but it's not the only way we need to connect the dots better.


George: The fundamentals you look for when placing a multimillion-dollar facility are the right kind of talent, cities and officials that get that these are economic engines, and the right infrastructure.


George: Look at DFW Airport. Visionaries went out in the middle of nowhere and placed an airport. To lead the city of the future, we need people who will take on those big projects.


Hunt: If you look at this city historically, we've been first and foremost about commerce and trade. We've lived and died on the back of our ability to make ideas work. We're a heterogeneous city, but we've traditionally been organized around very homogeneous pockets.

If we can break out of the status quo and leverage our diverse ideas and opinions, that is potentially our greatest export.


Zollars: RIght now we're very far behind our population growth in transportation. We'll have to transform how we finance our roads and highways. We have to revise our attitudes about taxes and user fees to do that, because public money won't always be there. Until we can get more cross-connectivity in our city, DART can't do the job we expect mass transit to do.


Zollars: There's a competition between highways and mass transit for funding, and we have to think about those priorities. When you require a lot of parking for single-rider automobiles, it also affects where you can place a plant.


Zollars: Most neighborhoods oppose having a transit stop, despite the fact that those stops actually make values go up. There are a lot of mentality issues we have to address.


Solomon: It takes time for new technology and transportation modes to be accepted, first by the political culture and then by the user. It takes time, and it also takes education.


George: When you go to Shanghai, there are cranes as far as the eye can see. They're turning out engineers at an astonishing rate. SMU can help us compete. You can equip students with the knowledge and the initiative to keep Dallas globally competitive. But we need to start now.


Hunt: In some ways SMU is a reflection of where Dallas is right now. We're competing at a higher level now, and we need to gear up for that challenge. The human capital and entrepreneurial spirit here are incredible, as long as we're willing to do the work to reach the next level.


del Monte: The transit problem is going to require all our North Texas cities to come together in an extraordinary way. The health of all of them depends on it. We're ahead of many areas right now in that we have a very effective Council of Governments to work on this.


Zollars: The budget tends to get balanced on the infrastructure. Streets don't vote.


The panel has ended. Stay tuned for "Students and the Common Good," featuring several of SMU's outstanding students.

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