More than 150 government leaders gathered with industry and academic experts in National Harbor, Maryland at the Smart Cities Connect Fall Conference October 8 – 10, 2019. There was an unprecedented number of first-time city leader attendees, which is a sure sign of the expansion of the smart city movement.
Over the course of three days across dozens of panels and workshops, several key themes emerged. This snapshot is meant to give some insight to the depth of discussion at the conference.
Mid-Sized Cities are Leading the Pack
In 2016 when the U.S. Department of Transportation issued its Smart City Challenge, there was a flurry of activity among large municipalities. They were the first to launch smart city pilots, begin to align siloed departmental priorities and streamline data collection. There were, of course, successes and lessons learned, which were generously shared through online and event platforms including Smart Cities Connect.
Because of that early work, today smaller cities like Greenwood Village, CO; Virginia Beach, VA; Cary, NC; Colorado Springs, CO; Aurora, IL and many others are making steady and impressive progress. These early adopters are resolute in their efforts and approaching their smart city activity with deliberate confidence while also being intensely considerate of complex issues surrounding data privacy and cybersecurity.
It was apparent that even though each city is unique, the challenges are shared. Each are working to enhance the foundation of all smart city activity – mobile broadband – and some are exploring 5G capabilities more intently. City leaders also shared how they are deepening their efforts to ethically gather and activate collected and open data while focusing on resident engagement. It is encouraging to see that smart really does come in all sizes.
The Rise of the Smart Region
A consistent topic heard across panel sessions includes activity among cities to think and act regionally. In addition to being a strong economic development approach, a multi-city strategy provides each community the ability to overcome their own limited resources and instead draw on the strength of other partner cities.
One example of this includes the idea of shared data science resources. Smaller cities may not be able to hire the expertise required to create and execute complex data strategies. So instead cities are streamlining their efforts to acquire talent and create coordinated approaches. This more cooperative approach has benefits beyond cost savings including shared learning and enhanced levels of collaboration. Simply setting up a consistent drumbeat of communication and meetings can reveal new opportunities for partnerships between city leaders.
Smart Is No Longer Separate
One of the first keynote panels was titled, “Inclusion, Innovation and the Workforce of the Future”. This is a critical conversation that speaks to the integration of smart city technology and the impact on individuals from the digital economy perspective. Panelists Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes, Director, Department of Employment Services (DOES); Ahnna Smith, Workforce Investment Council, Jason Green, SkillSmart and Kevin Bush, District of Columbia along with moderator Natasha Zena, did a remarkable job of discussing how emerging technologies and initiatives can lead to more equitable communities.
Key points from the panel included that preparing communities for a digital future means meeting residents where they are, and working to make technology relevant and approachable. Showcasing how gaining familiarity and skills can lead to better, higher paying and more reliable job opportunities is an important part of workforce strategies. City leaders have an important role here as they are attuned to what their residents want and need. There is also the opportunity to align digital literacy with smart city data privacy conversations to listen and share how technology is related to opportunity.
The conference revealed a new earnest energy in smart cities. City leaders are taking bold steps to realize the benefits of being smart city which include enhanced operational efficiencies, a better quality of life for residents and increased economic opportunity. By sharing tactics and strategies with one another, participants across the public and private sectors are collectively focusing on the fundamentals and getting closer to creating a better, smarter world.