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Smart Cities in Practice

“Smart” has become a buzzword for all data-driven city projects and innovations that improve services. Some city leaders even resist this term, wary of prioritizing the use of data for data’s sake and jumping on the bandwagon of new technologies. And an overwhelming number of smart devices, providers and attention flood this space in city government. Yet smart city efforts offer tremendous opportunities for improving infrastructure, enhancing community engagement, and promoting equity. Many cities have shifted from buzzword to reality with effective approaches.


Several cities began this work with targeted, pilot initiatives, such as implementing low-cost air quality sensors to improve public health outcomes. Increasingly, cities are advancing comprehensive smart initiatives. Best practices from those cities include the following:


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 strong partnerships with university research centers that have the capacity for data analytics;

Pursuing g a regional focus to bring in partners to support region-wide policies, especially important for issues such as mobility and air quality.

Integrating smart efforts across a broad range of policy issues, from infrastructure, to climate adaptation, to economic development.


See the Examples tab for more detail on Smart Cities in Practice, and the Resources tab for more detailed background and information.

Cheap Sensors Are Democratizing Air Quality Data, Jason Plautz, City Lab, July 9th, 2018.

What it means to be a ‘smart city’ in 2018 — and why we should consider another name, Benjamin Freed, State Scoop, May 16th, 2018.

Smart Money: Developing New Funding Mechanisms for Smart Initiatives, Knowledge@Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, February 14th, 2018.

The Rise of the Smart City, Michael Totty, The Wall Street Journal, April 16th, 2017.

What is a Smart City?, Sophie Quinton, Stateline, Pew Research Center, April 16th, 2016.

Trends in Smart City Development, Center for City Solutions and Applied Research, National League of Cities, January 1st, 2016.

Getting Smart about Smart Cities, Institute for Sustainable Communities, Nutter Consulting, and Urban Sustainability Directors Network, January 1st, 2014.

Columbus is implementing a comprehensive smart city program, with a resident-driven approach to implement a broad range of mobility improvements. Read more.


Grand Rapids 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.

Read more.


Birmingham 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. Read more. Read more.


Spokane’s Urbanova initiative offers demonstrates the value of university partnerships, as well as long-term investments in community engagement that leads to better support of new projects. Read more.


Pittsburgh has taken steps to share their insights with other cities on procuring smart technologies through the use of an Request for Information (RFI) process. Read more.


Kansas City’s efforts to become the “world’s more 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. Read more.


Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics developed a useful framework for engaging vendors and partners in this work resulting in work that is,, “people-centered, problem-driven, and responsible.” Read more.


In Chula Vista, have spent a decade pursuing a large-scale waterfront redevelopment project that will include a smart city project “test bed” for new technologies. Read more.


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.  Read more.


Ceri Jenkins
cerijenkins at mayorsinnovation.org