Looking To Spokane, Wash., For Smart City Guidelines

May 12, 2017
Image by Ian Sane on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY.

What makes a “smart city” truly “smart”? This is the question I was asking this week, during Smart Cities Week Silcon Valley, a conference promoting the idea to city governments.

My first principle is that any smart city worthy of the label must be a city built for and by her citizens. Any city that strives to become smart is working to provide clean, healthy living conditions, with an infrastructure that makes city services readily and conveniently available to anyone at anytime, working from anywhere. Cities that provide this sort of enabling infrastructure will be strong competitors for high-quality jobs because they foster equitable economic growth.

There are many worthwhile examples to spotlight. One to call out here is the US city of Spokane, with a population of almost 250,000. How did this economically distressed city come together in some amazing ways, around an initiative, Urbanova.org, led by two locally-based innovation-powered companies: Avista, a prosperous community-minded utility; Itron, a world-class smart-tech providers to utilities and cities. Teaming up with Washington State University immediately after forming the non-profit, they brought in Gallup, the world’s leading  public-opinion survey firm. The aim is simple: ask Spokanians for their own community-focused ideas and solicit valuable inputs.

A lesson from Spokane that’s transferrable to all cities, large or small: community-powered digital evolution creates lasting urban transformations  – and the effects are felt far beyond the operations of public sector agencies. The initiatives which link communities to empowering tech have the potential to unleash the same energies which are needed to form new partnerships, especially those that link up three sides of the triangle: for-profit, non-profit, government.

Smart-city solutions are ready to deploy. The most valuable are those solutions which help cities open new avenues for critical problem-solving. This has happened whenever real-time decision-making is improved, enabling dramatic increases in urban efficiency and urban productivity.  

It’s no small feat to create a viable roadmap for transforming our cities, public utilities, and urban services.  Advancing the process made with smarter urban infrastructure solutions is being done by the smartest cities in ways that accelerate the transition to a smarter city will require much more than connected technologies.

Data-powered innovations enable communities to find a new basis because those innovations reshape our many-faceted relationships with the city. They have the potential to radically alter our roads, shift the ways we design and use our buildings, transform our grids, strengthen our economies and disrupt our societies. From autonomous vehicles that drive and park themselves to multimodal transportation that gives commuters a wider variety of options; from data analytics which manage traffic flows to remaking energy and water grids -- smart and connected infrastructure is becoming a reality, and has the potential to make cities more efficient, more productive and more livable.

What are a few of the key guidelines for success?

No Silos

Everything starts when visionary leaders from key sectors, including from the community groups created by citizens, can come together. Their joint aim must be to share perspectives and generate the insights that then create the basis for joint initiatives. 

New Strategies

There are lessons to be learned from alliances linking cities and NGOs and companies where they’ve successfully navigated the big convergence that’s just now emerging.

Adapting Strategies

explore the signposts and triggers which city leaders need to know to adapt their strategies for success.

Gordon Feller founded Meeting of the Minds, which brings together urban sustainability and technology leaders to share knowledge and build lasting alliances. Meeting of the Minds is the leading non-profit focused on urban community transformation. Their global network of leaders engages, every day, in intensive knowledge exchange.

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