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How to Make Your City Smarter

New report outlines path to more sustainable cities.

Modern cities share many goals. For many, chief among them is an engaged citizenry interested in innovative, sustainable solutions that contribute to their community’s livability. Using today’s terminology, they aspire to be “smart cities.”

Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, research director at market research and advisory firm IDC Government Insights, explained in an interview with Government Technology that smart cities adopt a broader view of sustainability. Beyond its typical environmental implications, sustainability also applies to things like infrastructure development and economic development.

“Sustainability actually could be looking at your roadways and saying ‘it's much more sustainable for us to use our existing roads better rather than expanding a highway or a roadway system’” she said.

IDC just released a study (#G1234160) on smart cities, defining key processes to enable a smart city. The report, entitled Business Strategy: Smart City Strategies – IDC Government Insights; Smart City Framework, offers insights on how to integrate solutions across city organizations.

And the time is right. According to IDC, a number of factors are making smart city solutions widely possible. These factors include the ubiquitous nature of wireless and broadband connectivity, analytics software, intelligent sensors and the prevalence of mobile devices and social media.

Stories about municipalities employing smart technologies to improve service delivery in areas like public safety, transportation and energy have become commonplace.

But the IDC study recommends a more comprehensive approach that breaks down typical government silos. “We are hoping that eventually there's a more cross-departmental, cross-city data flow and process flow about how cities function in this sort of ecosystem of services,” Clarke said.

Getting past compartmentalized government thinking is just one hurdle to implementing smart solutions at the city level. Strong leadership is also critical. Leaders need to engage a diverse group of stakeholders – citizens, local businesses, nonprofit organizations and the vendor community – to consider new solutions that can take several years to implement.

And finding the money to deploy new technologies can be a considerable challenge, especially in the current economic environment. But the monetary investment can pay dividends in the long run.

“Cities that are investing in developing these solutions do generate interest from their citizens and from their local businesses and that engages people,” said Clarke. “It makes them more satisfied and ultimately makes their city a really attractive place to do business and to live in.”

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.