Using failure as a learning moment and building partnerships are among the lessons from the three-day conference in Kansas City, MO.
The 2018 Smart Cities Connect conference in Kansas City, MO brought together officials from various levels of government as well as those in business and academia, all to discuss the evolution of smart cities and what communities can do to stay at the forefront of that evolution.
Organizers estimated nearly 2,000 attendees joined the discussion over three days, with more than 400 cities from the United States and across the world represented. They listened to keynote addresses and panel discussions on a variety of topics, including autonomous vehicles (AVs), data, blockchain and infrastructure. And businesses had the chance to showcase their smart city technology, both in the conference’s expo and on stage with live demonstrations.
Here are five trends Smart Cities Dive identified from the speeches and panel discussions at the event, as well as from interviews with stakeholders.
1. Failure is an option, so long as it’s a learning moment
As cities look to innovate and use technology to improve residents’ lives, they shouldn’t be afraid to fail, so long as they learn from the experience and the financial impact isn’t too large from that failure. “When smart cities go bad, sometimes it’s a good thing,” Kansas City CIO Bob Bennett said in a keynote speech.
While San Diego’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer David Graham acknowledged failures can leave a “sour taste” among residents and government officials, various speakers emphasized it can be helpful in the long-term. “This whole concept of failing is about learning,” Aurora, IL CIO Michael Pegues said in a speech.
2. Teamwork makes the dream work, both inside and outside government
Another key tenet of the conference’s panel discussions and speeches was the need to form partnerships to help makes cities smarter, both across government departments and between the public sector and private businesses. Mark De la Vergne, Detroit’s Chief of Mobility Innovation, said during a panel discussion Michigan’s regional effort to prepare for the growth of AVs took that into account, as neighboring cities took a “We’re learning, you’re learning, let’s try and learn together,” approach.
Kate Garman, Smart Cities Coordinator for the City of Seattle, said engaging with the business community on new technology and innovations could mean “thinking outside your normal box, whatever that means” and fostering a closer relationship. Danny Rotert, senior strategic consultant at Burns & McDonnell, said innovation “happens across your organization and should be celebrated across your organization,” referring to either government or business.
And for businesses, partnering with cities means they need to “reimagine the way we work with cities, understand their feedback and their problems,” Alex Keros, Smart Cities Chief at Maven, General Motors’ urban mobility arm, told Smart Cities Dive. “It’s looking at the data and saying, ‘How do we go and try new things, and make it so we can test things?'” he added.
3. Cities must engage residents on all projects at all levels
Those partnerships are also crucial between cities and their residents, especially the need for governments to show how smart city solutions make residents’ lives easier. During a panel discussion, Garman expressed concerns that cities are doing smart cities projects “for the sake of saying they’re a smart city and not realizing what it’s for.”
Speakers said it can be helpful to set expectations for projects early on and give residents a seat at the table throughout, especially in educating them of the benefits and letting them test out new innovations. Farrah Cambrice, a professor at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, TX, said that means “treating your community less like research subjects and more like co-principal investigators” as projects are tested and refined.
Lafayette, LA Mayor Joel Robideaux said engaging residents can take many forms when a project is in place, especially something complex like a city’s use of cryptocurrency. Lafayette refers to that form of payment as “Crypteaux” as a nod to residents’ French heritage, and Robideaux said its use can be as small as by incentivizing residents “to pick up litter or whatever and reward them with a Cajun coin or whatever we come up with.”
4. An equitable approach is a lasting one
Multiple city leaders said smart city innovations must also be carried out with all residents in mind and be equitably beneficial for everyone. “The inclusive approach to this is what’s going to make it sticky and give it longevity,” Graham said.
Prairie View, TX Mayor David Allen said during a panel discussion that, for the most part, people’s favorite acronym could also be their favorite radio station: “WII FM – What’s In It For Me?” He said while it can be great for city leaders to unveil new technologies and shiny new objects, it must be done while keeping in mind that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Similarly, TJ Costello, Director of Smart Cities and IoT for the Americas at Cisco, said there has been a definite “shift away from the smart shiny object chasing.”
In his own speech to the conference, interim San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell, D, discussed the city’s plan to provide high-speed internet to all city residents, and said that while it will help businesses and be cheered by people who lament slow speeds, it is being done with one eye on the poorest in the community.
By providing them better service, Farrell said they can close the “digital divide” with better access to jobs and it being easier for their children to do their homework assignments at home. “If [closing the digital divide] alone is the only thing we get done, I will tell you my time in public office has been worthwhile,” Farrell said.
5. The future is now, and government must be ready
In his keynote address, Bennett said that the smart city “movement” will be “an interesting footnote in history” in 10 years. By then, he said, such innovations will be commonplace and any city that has not made strides will be left behind in a “digital Rust Belt” of falling populations and few job opportunities. “If we don’t build smart cities, [young people] are going to leave,” he said.
Graham said as technology becomes more widely used in city government, those who work in the smart city space must go from being “evangelists to engineers.” Graham said they must also look to the ongoing conversations around the state of the nation’s infrastructure to frame their arguments in favor of smart city innovations and try to bring the two into the same conversation. “Infrastructure is the new yellow brick road,” he said. “That’s the place where cities are spending a lot of money.”
And in a speech to the conference, Bruce Patterson, Technology Director of the City of Ammon, ID, laid down a challenge to his colleagues. Patterson touted the city’s internet speeds of 1GBps, which had been improved thanks to a government-led initiative and are available to all residents and businesses for less than $60 a month. “If we can do it in rural Idaho, you can do it in your communities,” he said.
Smart Cities Need Smarter Citizens: Millennials Should Take The Lead Now
Over $14.85 billion have been spent on smart city initiatives in 2015. By 2020, the figure is expected to double and reach $34.45 billion.
According to a report by BitcoinNews, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this number is expected to increase to 66% by 2050. As the urban density increases, we need new ways to create better living environments; regulate pollution; energy consumption and overall efficiency within the ecosystem. Leveraging technology for that is an obvious choice. Because they are digital natives and, as a group, so tech forward, people might assume that millennials are at the forefront of the movements towards “smart” living.
In reality, that is not entirely true. But in order for smart cities to thrive, millennials will need to take the lead and become more active participants in the urban initiatives.
The Association of Energy Services professionals estimated that 85% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 don’t own any smart home devices. This may be partly because student loan debts and mortgage costs make it challenging for them to buy homes. These are young people who are closer to the college loan payment issue than their older cohorts. They are not looking for smart homes as much as they are looking for the most favorable lending environments. One of these, of course, is the FHA mortgages that feature a lot of flexible loan plans for their unique needs.
Also, even where millennials do own smart home devices, most do not take part in utility supported energy management programs. This means that they are not participating in or benefitting from some of the key parts of smart cities such as optimized energy consumption or peer-to-peer electricity trading.
Worse, one might assume that these numbers skew so low because there are some millennials still attending school or just starting their careers. These younger millennials may be living on campus, in apartments, or with their parents. As such, it is possible that they would not have the opportunity or resources to own such devices or participate in such programs. The only problem is that these ownership and participation rates do not go up for older millennials. Instead, it appears as if millennials are not prioritizing these things.
Lack of empowerment could be an issue
Only 15% of people believe they have any say so in smart city planning and initiatives. True or not, this perceived lack of power and influence could be a real roadblock to participation. Millennials who believe smart city planning isn’t for them will likely believe it is designed to benefit others and not them.
This perception is a shame because successful smart cities exist because planners understood the need to involve citizens in the planning process as well as in any ongoing changes. Cities like Toronto, have leveraged professionals from a variety of backgrounds to help develop a city that meets the needs of all of its citizens.
In the United States, the success of the smart city depends on the millennial voter. Not only do millennials need to be involved in running and planning smart cities. They need to vote in support of policies and politicians that will repair and rebuild the crumbling infrastructure that is such a problem these days. Infrastructure is one of the key requirements to implementing technology in cities. Best case scenario, they exist as technological islands.
Why care about smart cities? Millennials stand to benefit most
More than anyone else, it is millennials who are using the services that are impacted by smart city initiatives. They are the most reliant on connectivity. They are commuting using their own vehicles and public transit. They are the ones whose daily lives are most likely to be impacted by changes or breakdowns in these systems. They are also most likely to be aware of issues, and to have practical ideas about fixing those issues.
Because millennials are now the largest percentage of working adults, they also stand to benefit economically. Smart cities are clean and they run efficiently. This makes them especially attractive to overseas investors as well as tourists from places like China where consumer spending on western tourism has increased.
So how can millennials overcome doubt and take action?
There are several things millennials can do to start and support smart cities. The first is to understand that the beginnings of a smart city initiative may not be called a ‘smart city’. The foundation for these movements often start smaller. They begin with smaller projects and initiatives. According to DEEP AERO, drones are already being used as eyes in the sky by Richland County Sheriff’s Department to assist their officers on ground for rescue operations and capturing people facing criminal charges.
Building on that, a simple effort to create social network and community alert system can be the start of a smart city initiative. Another example would be creating a policy to make city’s buses and trains wi-fi enabled. To take part in, start, and build on these actions millennials can:
Become involved in local level politics and play a role in existing resources
Millennials tend to focus their conversations and energy on national politics, ignoring the impact they can have in their local communities. When millennials attend school board meetings, city council meetings, volunteer for library boards, and communicate with city and community leaders their questions get answered and their ideas generate discussion.
“Citizens should become real rulers of smart cities,” said Nikolay Bezhko, Lead Community Manager of McFly.aero Incubator for Air Taxi. “Blockchain governance merged with connected devices is an opportunity for the local communities.”
Leverage social channels to organize and make change
Social media is a great place to organize for social change. Millennial leaders can create events, organize meetup groups, share information, and get the attention of leaders through Smart City groups. However, this is only the beginning. In order for this organization to make an impact, people eventually have to put their boots on the ground, knock on doors, make phone calls, and show up to meetings.
Smart cities are more environmentally friendly. Telecom and utility costs are lower. They are more diverse. Economically, they are more attractive to small businesses. They have more resources that are significantly easier to access. However, in order to ensure these programs succeed, millennials must take on a leadership role.