Four U.S. cities — Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Philadelphia; and San Francisco — have all launched full-fledged smart city initiatives. Through products developed by companies like Cisco Systems and Microsoft, the Internet of Things (IoT) and other emerging technologies are enabling complex and robust digital infrastructure development that will improve residents’ lives through the collection and analysis of real-time data.
The National League of Cities, in partnership with American University, has published case studies of these cities’ efforts in “Trends in Smart City Development,” a report that includes best practices from these pioneering governments.
Here are three key takeaways city leaders should glean from the NLC’s report.
Developing a smart city is a complex undertaking. By deploying sensors, cities collect information that can, through analysis, drive real solutions to public problems. But cities need to carefully consider which challenges they want address and how the data collected will help in that endeavor. Also, any assessment of public needs and data collection should be derived from (and tied to) existing city comprehensive plans, visions and sector planning documents.
The NLC emphasizes that, though the conversation around smart cities is being driven by companies developing smart technology, it’s each city’s responsibility to define its own objectives.
Cities interested in undertaking smart city development need to first consider what problems they want to solve, and then develop a model for how smart technology can help them achieve their goals. It goes without saying that they should rigorously evaluate smart technology investments and look at an array of options before committing to any one vendor or approach.
Partnerships provide many benefits to cities, including access to funding and expertise that might not otherwise be available. Chicago’s Array of Things project is a perfect example. The Windy City launched its AoT project in 2012 in partnership with Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago. It also sought input and support from other universities and private corporations, such as AT&T, which provides the wireless network to transmit the data. All these partners not only provide a portion of funding, but also expertise in running and implementing the technology.
Partnerships can be challenging, however; organizing several stakeholders across different timelines and cultures can be difficult. For this reason, the NLC encourages formal arrangements, regular meetings and designated contacts, as well as accountability measures for each piece of the project’s deployment and management.
While the National Institute of Standards and Technology is working on a framework for smart city development that will address interoperability and portability of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across cities, the standards are not yet finalized. In the meantime, cities can work to develop their own best practices and frameworks that will help other cities begin implementing more mature solutions. By keeping apprised of new developments in the innovations in the smart city arena, governments involved in current smart city developments can more easily manage the path-dependent dynamics of technological development.
“Functional silos, the challenges of cross-sector collaboration, and political gridlock will not disappear with the arrival of ICT technology,” the NLC’s report states. “However, if these challenges can be acknowledged and overcome, then smart city development can not only increase a city’s efficiency, accountability, and transparency, but also leave behind an organizational legacy of innovation and collaboration that will continue to improve local governance.”