One of the best aspects of smart cities is the diversity of perspectives, experiences, and motivations that each person brings. People from all around the world consider an endless amount of approaches to integrate connected technology with the hopes of improving local communities. This can be a daunting endeavor regardless if you’re new to the concept of smart cities or if you’ve been one of the founding members of this movement. And while there is no singular definition of a smart city, there is one statement on which we can all agree.
Becoming a smart city is a process, not a destination.
A process assumes evolution. Smart cities elements are in a dynamic dance that depend upon and impact one other. For example, cities change. The demographics of a community changes over time, as does its leadership, its policies, and its priorities, all of which can result in transformation of fundamental infrastructure. On a parallel track, technology is also changing. From AI to broadband connectivity, technology expectations impact what citizens and residents expect from city leaders. The speed and rate of tech innovation is often challenging to understand much less implement.
So how can smart city leaders navigate this dynamic environment?
First, you have to establish an inclusive ecosystem that encourages people to come together, to question, to learn, and to listen. You must invite the major community stakeholders such as city/county government, industry, startups, educational partners (including universities and workforce development), the social sector and nonprofit organizations, and of course citizens and residents.
Next, once you have to bring people together and provide a way for them to experiment and innovate. When it comes to smart cities, this can be challenging due to the planning and purchasing process for infrastructure and technology investment which can often take many months, if not years. In these extended cycles, cities and technologies may change, making it difficult to build confidence in long-term solutions.
Test, Discover, Be Open to Surprises
One solution for smart city leaders to consider is the creation and implementation of a Testbed. The Virginia Smart Community Testbed located in Stafford County, VIrginia has created a model that offers some promising results. The Testbed is designed as a “shared knowledge platform” that serves as a magnet to attract leaders at all levels of government while also welcoming startups and local innovators to ideate and experiment with local solutions.
Leveraging the wisdom of the community is an important component of creating cohesion and a shared vision. Decision makers can then bring an informed perspective to smart city projects which helps to avoid mistakes that waste time, money, and burn through invaluable local trust.
The Testbed is a collaboration of three main entities – Stafford County as the government partner, the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) as the economic development, and OST as the systems integrator. This three-pronged public-private partnership also interfaces with other groups including the RIoT entrepreneurial ecosystem and also builds on top of a solid connectivity platform enabled by Verizon Innovation Hubs.
The Virginia Smart Community Testbed is housed in a physical location that serves to both convene new conversations and to pilot technology deployments so that smart city leaders can “try before they buy.” Beyond these practical applications, startup founders can explore the viability of their proposed solutions and ecosystem partners can investigate the resilience of their visions for the community in a real-world context.
If you’re intrigued and wonder how to take the next step, there is good news. The Virginia Smart Community Testbed founders built the model with the vision to share it with others and inspire other implementations. If you are interested in learning more, make sure you attend the Smart Governance and Citizen Engagement panel on Thursday, November 30.
In the process of becoming a smart city, a community-enabled technology test bed is a critical and necessary ingredient. Even for those cities who have made the leap into major smart public infrastructure initiatives such as smart street lighting or smart water metering, there is always something new to test and learn. A smart city testbed is an essential element of the smart city evolution.