Mayor Kevin Faulconer at the Smart Cities Council conference at Qualcomm in Mira Mesa. Photo credit: Alexander Nguyen
Mayor Kevin Faulconer giving the keynote speech at the Smart Cities Now Forum at Qualcomm headquarters in Mira Mesa. Photo credit: Alexander Nguyen

Imagine using your smart phone to arrange for a driverless ride. While it’s not exactly the Jetsons, it is one of the many ideas discussed Tuesday for planning the city of the future at the Smart Cities Now Forum held at Qualcomm headquarters in Mira Mesa.

About 200 elected officials, policy and tech experts are attending the three-day conference, hosted by the Smart Cities Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that seeks to accelerate the growth of smart cities worldwide by providing guidance on technology, policy and citizen engagement.

It is being held in San Diego for the first time.

Transportation was a big topic of discussion Tuesday. Until a few years ago, scientists and engineers were still contemplating on when driverless vehicles would be a reality; now they’re working on ways to make it a reality, said Stan Caldwell, executive director of Traffic21 Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

“The question is how. How do we deal with it? We have to plan for 5, 10, 20 years in the future,” he said. “This will change the fabric of cities.”

The millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2003, are not interested in owning cars, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. The government cannot continue to have the same transportation bill, which is building roads and bridges, he said.

“The direction now is technology,” LaHood said.

And it needs to happen at the local level, he said.

“Cities are the incubators,” he said. “When you look around America today, most states are still in the road building, bridge building business. Where is the innovation taking place? It’s being implemented in the cities by young energetic mayors, city councils and city planners.”

In that regards, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who gave the keynote speech at the conference, said he’s proud that San Diego is on the forefront of smart city planning, often showing up on top-10 lists as a hub for innovation.

“Last year, we were granted — in the San Diego region — 6,700 new patents,” he said. “I think that (speaks volume) when we say this is an area of synergy.”

But smart city planning isn’t all about the technology, it is also about the quality of life, he said.

In order to attract high-quality workers, the city needs to have infrastructure, resources and be resilient in the global economy, Faulconer said.

“One of the things that I’m doing is making sure that we demonstrate how that improves lives in every neighborhoods in the city, not just certain areas of the city,” he said.