Getting smarter is a marathon not a sprint. This rings true for both humans and cities. Although it would be ideal for a Matrix-esque instant upload of knowledge or a mega-deal bringing in smart and connected devices, experienced oversight and a playbook every city agency is on board with, these occurrences are still a thing of fantasy. However, cities gradually becoming smarter is not.
Cities big and small are making their way into the smart realm, putting sensors on everything from street lights to sensors, buildings to connected cars. The data that can be gathered and utilized is only growing.
The Smart Cities Council plays a major role in the advancement of smarter cities. Funded in part by the White House Smart Cities Initiative, the organization launched the application process on Nov. 2 for cities to apply for the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant. Council Chairman Jesse Berst said that 25 applications were received in the first 24 hours.
The grants will be awarded to five winners by the end of January 2017, who will receive a host of products and services from council member companies with a combined value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The list includes Internet of Things starter kits, building design optimization training and assistance on urban mobility projects to name a few. Through the Council, members and advisers have combined to work on more than 11,000 smart city projects.
With this wealth of knowledge and experience, “there are a lot of mistakes that don’t need to be made, again,” said Berst. “Between our members and advisors, we have the world’s preeminent smart city practitioners.”
Perhaps the greatest benefit is derived from simply filling out the application, Berst said. “There is so much value in entering, whether or not you even submit the application.”
That is because, as Berst puts it, “it is a learning application.” The couple dozen or so questions help gauge where cities are in the process and what needs can be completed. Each step comes attached with worksheets or presentations that serve on their own as helpful resources for cities to learn how to take advantage of emerging technology. “Our application really forces you to think about the technology and gets your stuff lined up,” said Berst.
One lesson that has already been felt through filling out the application was to create coalitions of smaller cities. By teaming up and submitting joint applications, vendors are much more likely to work with city coalitions, as long as they are well-organized and on the same page.
This way, cities would be able to easily share costs, infrastructure and data. “Cities get better prices, better technology and it’s more efficient for vendors,” Berst explained: They would much rather provide 17,000 smart streetlights than 1,700.
Another helpful tool within the application is guidance on how to finance smart city projects. One of the application steps links to a guide, laying out 28 ways to get funding (PDF). Berst points to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge as a source of inspiration. Many of the cities that missed out on the funding are still pursuing projects contained in their applications. The Smart City Council is hoping for the same outcome.
The challenge to lead the 21st century in smart technology is something the Smart Cities Council intends to take on. The haste at which international cities are adopting smart city technology has lit a fire for cities in the United States.
“The world is not waiting for America to get its act together,” said Berst. “They’re charging forward and gaining these economic development and environmental advantages that we are not.”
The application is available here, with a submission deadline of Dec. 31, 2016.
Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.