Smart Cities are Early Adopters

"It all starts with the smart city. Empty hype? Not at all: a great platform upon which to build.”

by / January 3, 2014

I would like to amplify on my colleague’s last blog, as I too participated in The Economist Web debate on Smart Cities. I too voted “no” – Smart Cities are not empty hype, but I wasn’t surprized by the split vote.  As Robert Bell stated in the last blog, “Smart Cities are about using a new generation of cheap, powerful sensors, data storage and software to automate cities …. using information and communications technology (ICT) to do more with less.”  Cities that have become involved in these tech enhanced programs like are quite happy with their asset management initiatives.  But having worked with some of these cities, I cannot say that they would qualify as Intelligent Communities. They could if they go the next steps and build on the platform that has been built for them by the Smart City technology firm. So my position was a little different. I felt that these tech companies are doing these cities a big favor by helping them to get a terrific grounding on the first level of intelligent communities – namely by focusing on what we call getting the infrastructure right.  Here is what I said:

“I think it’s essential to have smart cities. They are not just empty hype. Whether they evolve as a result of public policy first or come originally in a box from vendors promoting it to the city technocrats perhaps without a clear picture of where the community is going with it, the end result is the same - like early adopters, these communities will have the benefit of the experience of greater efficiencies in transportation, utilities, etc; improved budgets; and overall longer term sustainability than without them. Citizens, technocrats and decision makers alike will greatly benefit from this experience and want to constantly improve upon their smart community with increased connectivity, perhaps even seek to develop ultra-high-speed broadband throughout their community like Toronto's Waterfront or Chattanooga; perhaps more wireless monitoring capabilities will be installed to capture even more data, but which might also double up as free Wi-Fi for their citizens; and maybe even some visioning among thought leaders in the community might result to help to develop a plan to improve their community further or take advantage of underutilized land or buildings which might benefit from these smart services. Their city asset managers will greatly benefit from these and likely promote further improvements and maybe even seek more ways for their community to benefit from these smart technologies and methodologies.

Sooner or later the benefits will also attract investors (perhaps even FDI) and businesses who want to be associated with these efficient and well planned communities. Talent will be attracted to join these new job opportunities; more talent will be needed and perhaps local educational institutions will be brought into this activity - not only for training to meet the needs of analyzing the big data generated by the smart city but also to investigate and undertake research on what these and future smart cities need; how to create them better and other related research in support of smart region planning and execution. With these institutions involved, more talent is created and attracted to be involved in the local smart community activities. Some of these will be highly innovative and creative people benefitting from the smart technologies available in the smart community. They might even incubate homegrown businesses as start-ups, creating innovative products and services that can be commercialized and exported abroad, bringing further wealth and prosperity to the area. These benefits and increased prosperity can now be shared among the disadvantaged, disenfranchised, the elderly and single mothers and young children. Those disadvantaged in a smart city should be able to benefit from available digital training and become digitally included, offering some new opportunities for them and their children. I have seen this in the Knowledge Squares in Rio and even in smaller locations such as Riverside, California.

With a smart city as a platform you can begin to get onto the pathway to a higher level of community-wide engagement; bringing education, thought leadership and public policy into the game. Ultimately we will want to see these ideas entrenched into public policies so that plans, budgets and community wide acceptance and continuous improvement become part of this exercise. With all of these elements in place, I dare say the marketers of the community better step up and promote the city to attract even further investment, talent and jobs to this smart community.

But at this point, I would suggest it goes beyond the concept of "smart". It has been said by the Mayor of Stratford, Canada that you have to be a Smart City to become an Intelligent Community. Where the city transforms from smart to Intelligent is another topic for debate, but it clearly goes beyond the infrastructure, analysis of big data and begins to get into the attitude, culture and philosophy of true city-building along with its citizens that makes it become intelligent. But it has to start somewhere - and I would say that it all starts with the smart city. Empty Hype? Not at all: a great platform upon which to build upon.”

John Jung Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

ICF co-founder John G. Jung originated the Intelligent Community concept and continues to serve as the Forum's leading visionary. Formerly President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Calgary Economic Development Authority, he is a registered professional urban planner, urban designer and economic developer. He leads regular international business missions to US, European, Asian, Indian and Australian cities, and originated the ICF Immersion Lab program. John is a regular speaker at universities and conferences and serves as an advisor to regional and national leaders on Intelligent Community development. The author of numerous articles in planning and economic development journals, he has received global and Toronto-based awards for his work in collaboration and strategic development and sits on numerous task forces and international advisory boards.