Smart city challenges have evolved in recent years from explaining the basic concept of a smart city to having more nuanced discussions of privacy, coordination and inclusion.
Last week, leaders from local government and industry at the Smart Cities Connect conference in Columbus, Ohio, highlighted the obstacles they're facing. Among the most significant hurdles named were procurement processes, community engagement and leadership of smart city efforts.
Smart Cities Dive asked attendees from across the country to share what they consider to be the key challenges keeping cities from meeting their smart city goals. Here's a selection of their responses:
Engaging the community in setting priorities
"What I think is the biggest problem for smart cities is still engaging in your community to know what their challenges are versus you deciding what’s best for them. We’re hearing more and more that regardless of the issue area — if it is transportation, if it's sustainability, if it’s health — people want to be involved in the decision-making process. They want you to know, 'Hey, this is what's bothering me.' Because there have been plenty of times where cities or counties ... roll out some type of service or solution, and it doesn't answer any of the needs or challenges of the people who are really hurting from that issue."
– Anthony Jamison, co-founder and CEO of CivStart
Procurement and learning to move at 'the pace of people'
"What I can share from this conference is how much of a challenge procurement is. It’s a challenge because technology moves faster than the pace of procurement. Procurement is also the way that it is for good reasons that are about transparency and public interest. But it is definitely a challenge when we have so much pressure to respond to challenges around the environment and sustainability and climate action, and [we are] not being able to, necessarily, keep up pace with that response.
I think the smart cities movement is really exciting, to see that more and more [it's] talking about how people-centered it should be, and that we should really move at the pace of people rather than technology. I’m seeing a growing challenge — with many cities responding well to [it] — which is, 'How do we center people in that process?' A lot more thinking is being done around authentic and meaningful community engagement, and acknowledging some of the barriers to that that are mostly around equity and people’s ability to interact with government."
– Emily Royall, smart city administrator for San Antonio
'Co-creating' community engagement
"One of the big challenges that I see comes back to community engagement almost every time. Portland, Oregon, has just announced and begun an initiative in co-creating, with community stakeholder groups, a privacy and surveillance policy. They are not doing a top-down [initiative where they] … write out a policy and push it out to the community. [Instead] they are holding public speaking engagements and workshops with different subsets of the community over a multiple-month period to co-author a policy that protects the rights of citizens and the community, especially with regards to data privacy and surveillance."
– Rebecca Lee Hammons, associate professor at Ball State University's Center for Information and Communication Sciences
Putting 'citizens at the center'
"At the city level, there’s a big push to drive … equitable services for citizens, reach[ing] citizens wherever they are [and] at whatever time makes sense for them…. Putting the citizen at the center … is really hard to do because it involves technology. It involves processes. It involves people. It involves all of the existing infrastructures that have been built over 60 to 70 years in government…. The biggest thing for city officials to do is to find something that they can promote as valuable or representative of all the investment they are making of taxpayer dollars and show citizens a win."
– Neil Graham, chief revenue officer of PayIt
People and leadership
"People. And it's the leadership. We have to change the mindsets from this fixed mentality mindset to a more open [one], and the way we do business. We need to think a little bit more commercially in terms of, 'How do we drive revenue?' But we’re also trying to identify that, yes, we need to make our cities safer. Yes, we need to make cities more efficient. We need to make the services run better. We need to make sure it's more connected and more prosperous. But looking at those outcomes we’re looking to achieve, and then work backward in an interdisciplinary approach to the technology that will help us.
But the city leadership and the city councils — our legislators — need to be open, and they need to be educated, and that takes a concerted effort from the public and the private [sectors] to make that change. And it's not going to happen overnight. It takes engagement with the community as well, to try and make sure they are brought into the loop and they have buy-in and they along for the ride as well."
– Michael Pegues, chief information officer of Aurora, Illinois