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Smart City 2.0: Shifting the Focus from Infrastructure to People

Thus far, the smart city movement has been focused on core infrastructure like broadband and sensors, but this week, the conversation began to shift to an even more important element — people.

AUSTIN, Texas — 19,519. That is the number of cities that exist in the United States. Over the past decade, each one of those cities experienced major shifts brought on by changes in technology, business and overall consumer behavior.

And this week, the Smart Cities Connect Conference kicked off to unpack the latest trends, technologies and tools that cities are using to tackle some of these shifts. In fact, a major topic of conversation was what the next generation smart city — or Smart City 2.0 —  will look like.

Looking back, the smart city movement has been focused on the core infrastructure needed to support it (think broadband and sensors). This week, however, the conversation began to shift to an even more important element — people.


Austin Mayor Steve Adler, pictured above, alluded to this shift in his opening remarks when he explained Austin’s definition of a smart city.

“At its very core, a smart city is a city that has been able to look inside and identify what its challenges are — what its people and residents need to have the quality of life they want to have — and to craft unique solutions that enable the city and the community to deal with those challenges," he said. "That truly is what a smart city is.”

Additional validation of this approach came from Salesforce Chief Digital Evangelist Vala Afshar, who stressed that cities can look to the private sector for inspiration.

“Companies that are growing and obtaining market share have the customer at the center of their design thinking principles," he said. "And as you [the government] think about building and evolving smart cities, you have to have citizens at the center.”

Even with that knowledge, one of the biggest challenges for government is trying to identify what citizens' expectations are. And again, Afshar said, juridictions can look to the private sector to see that “citizens expect engagements that are personalized, immediate and intelligent.”

The math seems simple, companies incorporate those elements to keep customers and survive, and government agencies can use those same elements to more effectively serve and engage their citizens.


Take the town of Cary, N.C., where Innovation and Analytics Manager Reid Serozi is leveraging this people-centric approach with One Cary, an omni-channel government strategy for its citizens. Whether delivering citizen information through its Amazon Echo skill or through its main website, the town is focused on building the experience of government around its people and their needs.

Technology will remain a vital aspect of the smart cities conversation, and the backbone of how much of it will be delivered, but cities that focus and design technology around their people will be more prepared for the inevitable future.

Afshar’s closing words sum it up best: “Companies don’t disrupt, cities don’t disrupt," he said. "People disrupt.”

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