Smart cities require more than smart technology to succeed — without a clear vision to guide transformation, city leaders and technology providers will find the results “unsatisfying.”
That’s just one of the findings summarized in a report from the Brookings Institution, which — together with Barcelona’s ESADE Business School — recently brought together city officials from Europe, Canada and the US for a two-day workshop on smart cities.
One key takeaway from the discussions over the course of those two days is that, from the business perspective, there is currently a “major flaw” in the market. That lies with the approach in which technology companies come to cities and simply begin implementing their existing, out-of-the-box solutions.
A city’s potential to become “smart,” participants agreed, “must begin at the planning stage”:
“Smart cities know what they want to be: they have an overarching economic vision based on a true assessment of their strengths, challenges and opportunities,” states “Getting Smarter about Smart Cities,” the report that came out of the workshop. It cited the city of Edmonton as “a clear leader in this area” for using technology to achieve six specific, strategic goals from its City Vision 2040.
Other findings to emerge during the workshop discussions include the following:
Successful city visions must address three key economic drivers: productivity, inclusivity and resiliency.
Implementing smart-city visions first requires cities to reform their own governments, in particular, by “breaking down silos and formalizing collaboration among different city agencies.”
Smart-city projects need to balance scale and risk tolerance. For example, a lab or incubator space project might better be tried first at the neighborhood-scale level to test how well it delivers economic benefits before being rolled out city-wide.
To become “smart,” cities also need stronger networks and better communication tools. “Representatives from the public and private sector should play a lead role forming these networks, to be sure, but they must also extend to include civic actors and other infrastructure users.”