Smart Cities Leaders Come Together at a Pivotal Moment:

Highlights From Smart Cities Connect Conference

We are witnessing the real-time evolution of smart cities, marked by several keystone events. The movement officially kicked off in December 2015, when the US Department of Transportation launched the Smart Cities Challenge, dangling a total of $50M in incentives. Cities large and small rallied to compete for the prize, organizing and scheming how smart tech could impact local efforts. 

Seven and a half years later, nearly 1,000 smart cities enthusiasts gathered in the city that won that Challenge – Columbus, Ohio – for the spring 2022 Smart Cities Connect Conference & Expo. Attendees included smart city’s early pioneers, as well as many fresh faces eager to learn more.

Tweet from Jordan Davis, Executive Director of Smart Columbus

Of course, the $1.2 trillion of historic investment, signed into law by President Biden on November 15, 2021 as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), is an incentive to come together. The once-in-a-generation funding delivers a new promise for the use of devices, data and connected technology to re-shape our cities to be more sustainable, resilient, equitable and responsive to the people who live in them. 

The feeling at Smart Cities Connect reflected the general sentiment of the sector. Hope is at an all-time high at a time right when relief is needed the most. Our city champions are weary after nearly a decade of building ecosystems, forming partnerships, writing (and re-writing) strategies, piloting projects and evolving technologies. Starting things is hard. Building complex systems driven by heightened human need and emerging technologies is harder. Two years of a global pandemic added insurmountable uncertainty to the heavy load. It’s clear we are all exhausted. 

We all needed a boost. And we got it. 

Attendees were challenged to be bold, think big, and inspire a sense of urgency in their organizations and networks. Opening panels heeded the call and delivered sharp insights on regional deal making, smart infrastructure, sustainability and the future of energy. The day’s panels focused on sensor technologies, the role of data and analytics, broadband connectivity, procurement, cybersecurity and more across five tracks: digital transformation, urban operations, smart mobility, urban infrastructure and community engagement. 

Absent were general platitudes and, in their place, were clear calls to action. 

Industry acknowledged the need to be a listening partner with views longer than a sales cycle. 

City leaders described how P3s really can lead to brilliant outcomes where the public interest is well served. 

There was a heightened focus on data standards, interoperability and citizen/resident engagement.

There was a rallying cry to scale progress on social equity and sustainable approaches to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Smart 50 Awards illuminated innovative approaches that deserve recognition. 

And the Expo floor let everyone play in the “digital petting zoo”. 

The conference came to a close with a spirit of celebration as attendees returned to their communities fueled with information, inspiration and a renewed sense that it really is possible to get this right.

Thank you to the diverse group of government, industry, academic and social sector leaders who came together to learn and demonstrate the art of the possible. For everyone who missed Columbus 2022, see you in DC this fall!