“Smart” has become a buzzword for all data-driven city projects and innovations that improve services. But becoming a smart city isn’t just a matter of buying the latest technology; cities must know how to use the data they collect to improve government operations and public life. Some city leaders even resist this term, wary of data for data’s sake without any clear improvements. Yet smart city efforts offer tremendous opportunities for improving infrastructure, enhancing community engagement, and promoting equity, provided cities use it the right way. Innovation in this space means being nimble, experimental, and comfortable with (periodic) failure.
When done properly, many cities have made meaningful advances in data driven policymaking. Best practices from those cities include focusing on the key needs that drive any data-related project; recognizing that these changes are often driven by customer service departments, and the need for flexibility in making changes to their service delivery; promoting a resident-driven approach, with a focus on equity and access to opportunity; developing partnerships with university researchers that have the capacity for data analytics; pursuing a regional focus in support region-wide policies, especially on issues like mobility and air quality; and integrating smart efforts across a broad range of policy issues, from infrastructure, to climate adaptation, to economic development.
What Cities Can Do
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Columbus, OH is implementing a comprehensive smart city program, with a resident-driven approach to implement a broad range of mobility improvements.
Grand Rapids, MI is broadly expanding the use of air quality sensors, also focusing on mobility improvements, while using an equity lens to assess each phase of project development.
Spokane, WA’s Urbanova initiative demonstrates the value of university partnerships, as well as long-term investments in community engagement that leads to better support of new projects.
Birmingham, AL has embedded smart city efforts within their economic development work, thus focusing data projects directly on improving the skills and jobs available to city residents.
South Bend, IN pioneered a data-driven model to address vacant and abandoned properties in the city and is applying that framework to other areas of government operations to boost operational efficiency. The city saved millions of dollars using sensors and data to address water quality issues instead of immediately investing in new infrastructure.
Chula Vista, CA, spent a decade pursuing a large-scale waterfront redevelopment project that will include a smart city project “test bed” for new technologies.
Pittsburgh, PA has taken steps to share their insights with other cities on procuring smart technologies through the use of an Request for Information (RFI) process.
Kansas City, MO’s efforts to become the “world’s most connected Smart City” have included the recent release of a Comprehensive Smart City Partnership RFP, building on the City’s extensive efforts to create smart infrastructure.
The regional Colorado Smart Cities Alliance includes 12 cities working together to develop smart solutions for transportation, public safety and other key issues that cross jurisdictions.