The One Factor That Determines If Your City Will Be A Smart City

There is no such thing as a smart city in the U.S. However, many municipalities across the country are in pursuit to leverage connected technology and data to address local challenges. Quantifying smart city success is elusive and there are a number of factors as to why evolving into a smart city can be a daunting task.

  • People-related issues: stakeholder group complexity, the difficulties of overcoming entrenched organizational norms, integrating public and private sector priorities, integrating resident feedback and concerns
  • Tech related issues: legacy system integration, keeping up with the rapid pace of innovation, privacy and security concerns, slow pace of broadband build out
  • Other issues: lack of funding, the lack of centralized strategy and the absence of standards, regulatory and policy items 

These are just a few from a long list of potential roadblocks in the journey to become a smart city.  And yet, many U.S. cities are showing tremendous progress. They are building their ecosystems, creating smart city strategies and deploying pilots and scaling programs.

Large municipalities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago), a great range of mid sized cities (San Francisco, Phoenix, Boston, Denver, Las Vegas, Kansas City) and even less populated cities (Lafayette, Louisiana, Racine, Wisconsin) are making great strides. There are many more cities to add to this list.

So, what is the common denominator between these areas? It isn’t size. Cities large and small are racking up smart city bragging points.  It isn’t wealth. There is some, but not complete, correlation between a city’s ability to pay for technology and its ability to implement technology in service of all residents. It isn’t the tech readiness of the city’s inhabitants. Both high tech and digitally divided cities are implementing strategies.

The factor that contributes to smart city success is the willingness of local leadership.

It is truly that simple. In each smart city movement, there are champions at all levels of government from the Mayor to C-Level to department heads who are willing and want to do the work. The champions provide leadership to start and implement the 7 Steps of building a smart city:

  • They set a vision.
  • They are able to communicate that vision.
  • They rally a diverse set of participants.
  • They garner support, both internal and external from the city.
  • They work with others to create priorities and a measurable plan.
  • They execute and iterate.
  • They share the progress and the set backs.
  • They share the glory.

Often this kind of leadership comes from an elected official but not always. It is crucial to identify and celebrate the non-elected champions who can sustain the smart city plan beyond political cycles.

So what makes a champion? A champion is “someone whose eyes light up.” These are the people who will become stewards for the movement. When these change-makers are led by a strong call from the community, it is possible to transform a city’s digital and real infrastructure.”

As you read this, consider who in your local government is willing to step in to this leadership role. There are often many outside of government, ready with ideas to improve the state of their city, but unless city government leadership is willing, these will result in little more than frustration and further divide between residents and government.

If your city already have those champions at work, find new ways to celebrate and support them. This is hard, complex work and it is very easy to become deflated by the monumental and never ending tasks. They need you.

If your city does not yet have a champion, be vocal in demanding activity and action. Look around, talk to people within your city government and understand what is causing the stagnation. Nothing will change unless people respectfully communicate that change is wanted and needed. You may need to form an outside coalition and then leverage the strength of that group to then reach into the city and build alliances. It is all possible, it just requires some work.

We are in a digital evolution and technology is becoming an essential aspect of how we live and prosper. So then, every city may benefit from becoming a smart city. Yes there are challenges and major issues to be considered and overcome, but we must work through these issues and find convening solutions. Technology can be an incredible catalyst for positive progress and community growth.

The journey to become a smart city is never ending. And so the movement must become one that begins, gains steam and grows, attracting new talent, new ideas, new champions that build on past successes. Find or become those willing champions and share the progress. The smart cities movement depends on it.