The First Smart Community8th Feb 2017
The Johannesburg suburb of Parkhurst is an innovative and progressive neighbourhood. While it’s not a residential community in the usual sense, it is a community of residents (and businesses – many of them run by residents) that has actively worked towards achieving the advantages of a formal residential estate.
And they’ve done it through a clever combination of state-of-the-art technology and good old face-to-face village communication. In fact, it is in the sphere of technology that this suburb is light years ahead of most others. It was the first suburb in South Africa to install a fibre network to supply super-fast internet to every home – and not just for the geeks and gamers. The fibre project is just one part of a holistic community structure, and also one of the main channels for keeping that community going.
Parkhurst is an ordinary suburb with a good mix of business, residential and open space and no access control. As a community, they have set up the PRABOA (Parkhurst Residents’ and Business Owners’ Association), which is similar to a homeowners’ association but also very different. PRABOA encourages members to get involved in neighbourhood clean-ups, park safety, sustainability initiatives and security. And, of course, the fibre project.
The community went through a carefully managed bidding process to choose a service provider, and settled on Vumatel. Obviously, it’s fast – offering a range of options from a optimised 4 Mbps to a blisteringly supersonic 1000 Mbps. But speed is a given. All the fibre to the home (FTTH) providers will offer speed. What really set Vumatel apart for the Parkhurst people is the fact that it’s open access, so residents could remain with their existing internet provider or choose from a range of new ones.
Unlike a residential estate, where the homeowners’ association meets regularly to decide policy and to work on upgrades and maintenance, people in ordinary suburbs do not, as a rule, work together. Which is why the Parkhurst residents started PRABOA – initially to deal with security and environmental issues, but it has grown. And, of course, it was PRABOA that championed the FTTH network.
When the project was first mooted, residents were mobilised through a number of channels. A Facebook page, WhatsApp groups (one for each street), a Google+ community and, of course, the PRABOA website. There were meetings in the town hall and regular coffee get-togethers. An article in the local community (print) newspaper picked up the few people who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks, and FTTH campaigners would stop people in the street as they were strolling or jogging, or chat to them in the park while their dogs were gamboling. Yes,
Parkhurst is an open suburb in which people feel safe in the streets. It’s not uncommon for residents to walk their dogs in the park, stroll up to Fourth Avenue for a pizza or some sushi, and then saunter back home. This is largely thanks to the security initiatives started and maintained by PRABOA – and, with the advent of fibre, they are going to move forward in leaps and bounds. CCTV cameras are being installed in virtually every street, so you can do your neighbourhood watch “patrol” in the comfort of your lounge by checking out the streets online through the camera network.
FTTH, as most people now realise, will change so much in our lives. As well as the obvious advantages of super-fast internet, movie streaming, crystal-clear VOIP and in-your-face gaming, fibre allows for seamless living. As Ryan Beech, who manages the FTTH programme for PRABOA, and is currently developing the smart system that will ultimately manage the Parkhurst smart community initiative says:
The possibilities are endless – better security through CCTV is likely to lead to lower insurance premiums. Parkhurst will attract many professionals wanting to work from home and this will drive economic growth in the area as local businesses are supported. You will be able to cancel your Telkom voice line and replace it with an Internet-based phone system that will allow you to make free calls within the area.
FTTH will enable more Parkhurst residents to work from home with greater efficiency, which will have huge knock-on effects. Security will be enhanced because there are more people around during the day, local businesses will benefit from increased business, and people will use their cars less. This last plus has so many benefits it’s almost worth it just for that. If you use your car less, you burn less carbon, you save money, you find that it’s a good idea to stroll to the shops or to the coffee shop – thus getting some exercise, and generally taking life a little slower.
Maybe that’s the real value of speed – it lets you do things slower: more time with the kids, time to walk the dogs, time to cook a meal from scratch – and leave it in the oven at a low heat while you burn up cyberspace at the speed of light. Learn more here: www.parkhurst.io