Smart City Leaders Rally in Raleigh

Highlights from the Smart Cities Connect Conference & Expo –  Spring 2024

The Smart Cities Connect Conference & Expo has been likened to a “homecoming” by smart city leaders who have been advancing in the space since the conference launched in 2017 while also welcoming new voices and perspectives. This year, government, industry, academic and civic advocates gathered in Raleigh, NC from May 7 – 10 to explore important topics across five program tracks: Digital Transformation, Urban Operations, Mobility, Infrastructure, and Community Engagement. 

What made this event particularly special was the level of engagement and partnership from local leaders in the Cities of Raleigh and Cary. The event benefited from input and support from City of Raleigh’s Smart City Manager John Holden and CIO Mark Wittenburg as well as the City of Cary’s CIO Nicole Coughlin in addition to their incredible teams and collaborators including  RIoT, a prominent IoT community hub. The spirit of partnership was visible and contagious!

The week began with two participatory workshops including the CTIA Connectivity Workshop and Technology for a Connected Triangle + Designing the Use Cases hosted by the City of Raleigh. That evening, 150 people gathered at the inspiring SAS campus to celebrate the Smart 20 Awardees including three Winners from the City of San Antonio (TX), The Port of Tacoma (WA), and the York Region in Ontario, Canada. These winners and awardees represent the most innovative projects that thoughtfully integrate technology with human-centered cities. 

The following morning, Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin inspired the crowd with a message that encouraged partnership and collaborative decision making. This theme flowed throughout the day as both city leaders and industry experts discussed topics ranging from how to ethically navigate the new dimension of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and specifically generative AI while staying conscious of the ethical considerations related to privacy, algorithmic bias, and transparency. Other key topics include global approaches to open-source solutions, and how foundational smart infrastructure (such as smart lighting) can streamline operations while supporting sustainability and resilience programs. 

Highlights from day two included presentations on cross jurisdictional collaboration, mobility, computer vision, and proven approaches and tactics on how to inspire public trust. The mornings’ discussions were a blend of community-centered conversations and technical demonstrations. This special blend is one the elements that makes the Smart Cities Connect Conference & Expo unique – the focus is not just on technology deployments but rather how technology may support community leaders in optimizing the quality of life for all residents and citizens. Another key first was the launch of The W Coalition, a group of women in smart cities across all sectors who are dedicated to advancing women in government innovation. Stay tuned for more from this group!

The Expo Floor continues to be one of the areas where attendees can see smart city technology in action. Booths transform into interactive spaces that serve as a “show, tell, and explore” for smart lighting, smart sensors, digital dashboards, and other transformative technology. 

Finally, the Conference is peppered with opportunities to hear directly from city leaders about their core challenges at the City Spotlight sessions as well as from innovators with the Smart Cities Startup Challenge. The result is a constant exchange of ideas, approaches, questions, and lessons learned. The Conference culminated with a tour of the City of Cary’s Smart Park that brought the concepts of smart technology to life through real-world use cases related to operations, facility management, safety, and resilience. As impressive as the technology design and deployment was, the real inspiration was the evident impact on those who visited the beautifully constructed space. It was clear that the Downtown Cary Park is a community center that welcomes all. 

In a few short months, this unique community of smart city leaders will gather again to advance the field of smart cities from a people-focused perspective – this time in Austin, Texas! Be sure to be on the lookout for a call for panels for the Fall conference and mark your calendars for December 3-5, 2024 and we’ll see you in Austin!