To me, the term “Smart City” always felt like a fictitious phrase made up by someone in marketing. I’m probably more cynical than most since I come from the marketing world, but I wondered how you could debate a city was smart or not. And does that mean the other cities are dumb? No, of course not, but as I’ve researched this topic I have noticed that some cities do exemplify the definition of Smart Cities. Yes, there is a Wikipedia page devoted to this. In short, the term refers to the creation of knowledge infrastructure through technology and data.
Last month I attended the Smart Cities & Counties Summit put on by the Public Technology Institute (PTI). They put on a great conference and gathered some outstanding cities and counties to come together for best practice sharing. At that point, I got to really understand why the term “smart” was used. Topics included 311, GIS, fiber optic broadband, transportation, etc… But from the topics were overlying themes of efficiency, collaboration, and an overall goal of wanting to build a better community. So for a city to be “smart” it doesn’t just adopt new technology and say “we are cutting edge”, it uses technology alongside people to look for ways to grow. Here are just a few of the cities that presented on their initiatives at the summit:
- City of Minneapolis is using analytics and data to make better decisions across departments and better coordination of city operations.
- City of Charlotte is building solutions to connect the city and it’s citizens with sites like Open Charlotte and the Code for Charlotte Brigade complete with it’s own hack-a-thon.
- City of Columbus is working with academia and businesses to conduct research on sustainability and economic development.
Workforce development was another element of Smart Cities that found its way into the conversations. After all, what is a city without its employees delivering services and its citizens being part of a workforce to stimulate the economy? Smart cities (or any city for that matter) are seeing a new generation come in with different skill sets while an older generation makes plans for retirement. Workforce development plans proactively look for ways to bridge this gap and transfer knowledge to move forward with succession efforts. Technology can play a role in this by way of educational/training tools, workforce management solutions, and talent acquisition.
So, this brings us back to question, ‘Is having a smart city important?’. Some will argue that it is subjective so therefore the title is up for grabs for any city who deems themselves worthy. I say, the smart city title is important, but only if the ultimate goal is bringing government and it’s citizens together. So far, I like what I see.