- A group of city leaders admitted Wednesday they have not done enough to engage the private sector, especially technology companies, in helping foster a culture of innovation.
- During a panel discussion to kick off Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC, Barney Krucoff, interim chief technology officer for Washington, DC; Wendy Gnenz, chief information officer for Edmonton, Canada; and Frank Johnson, chief information officer for Baltimore, all gave themselves low marks for engaging with tech.
- Gnenz said in Edmonton in particular, the private sector needs to be more involved, but "we have not invited them in as much as we should," in part due to mistrust between the public and private sectors.
When polled by moderator Adam Beck, executive director of Smart Cities Council Australia/New Zealand, none of the three panelists rated their relationships with the tech sector above 4/10, and said there needs to be a greater spirit of collaboration. Krucoff said that collaboration means more than just working together, as it also includes a "shared goal" that all parties work toward.
.@adambeckurban closes our first panel session with a great question to our panellists... Who is your City Crush?— Smart Cities Council (@smartccouncil) October 3, 2018
Barney Krucoff: City of Boston
Frank Johnson: City of Washington, D.C
Wendy Gnenz: City of New York #SmartCitiesWeek pic.twitter.com/VIVotCIobA
Gnenz, meanwhile, talked up Edmonton’s spot in the final of the Canada Smart Cities Challenge as an indicator that it is moving forward, although she too noted the difficulty of partnering and collaborating with different companies and sectors. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but every time it changes," she said.
But even working within the public sector is not without its pitfalls, the panelists agreed. Both Krucoff and Johnson said it can be difficult to partner with public safety departments, while Johnson said the local Department of Transportation can also be a tough sell. Gnenz, meanwhile, said working with the provincial government in Alberta is tricky.
And Johnson said, in their rush to the "bright shiny object[s]" of smart city improvements, elected leaders can sometimes be swept up in a "rush to the front" and forget the best innovations can be small. "We're under a tremendous amount of pressure to do smart city stuff," Johnson said.
Meanwhile, the issue of municipal finances repeatedly reared its head, with all three noting budgets remain tight and limit the amount of smart city spending that can be undertaken. Johnson called for greater collaboration with the likes of philanthropists, venture capitalists and other private companies, and in so doing "reimagine the old flow of money" beyond collecting property taxes.