- Kansas City, MO’s Chief Innovation Officer Bob Bennett warned in a speech Tuesday that if cities do not quickly embrace smart technology, they risk being left behind in a "digital Rust Belt." Areas of the traditional Rust Belt in the Northeast and Midwest have falling populations, declining industry and few job opportunities, compared to larger tech hubs.
- Bennett, speaking at the opening of the Smart Cities Connect conference in Kansas City, said that younger generations will "vote with their feet" and leave cities that do not become smarter. At the same time, the Internet of Things (IoT) will become a standard part of everyday life.
- At the start of the three-day conference, Bennett said the smart cities "movement" will be just an "interesting footnote in history" in around 10 years, as things are evolving so quickly in urban development that it will soon become ordinary.
Bennett has been bullish for some time on the future of cities and their innovation, and this was no different as he helped open Smart Cities Connect with a keynote address. He referred to the recent protests across the country in favor of tighter gun control, and said that those children will grow up expecting cities to be connected, or else cities will face the consequences. "If we don’t build smart cities, they’re going to leave," he said. "Those that don’t will be part of a ‘digital Rust Belt.’ I grew up in the Rust Belt. It sucked."
Meanwhile, investment in IoT solutions continues to grow, with cities looking to use data and connected devices for many aspects of everyday life. Bennett said that for younger generations who will grow up with IoT solutions, it will become "just as boring and mundane and exciting as the flush toilet in your hotel room. You’re going to need it, but you’re not going to think about it too much."
During a panel discussion with other city leaders following Bennett’s address, San Diego’s deputy chief operating officer David Graham said those who work on smart city solutions must go from being "evangelists to engineers," and make those innovations an everyday part of city government. "If it doesn’t exist, if it's part of the regular process, that's when it is transformative," Graham added.
And Graham said that data will be critical, especially how cities use it as they look to innovate and solve issues for residents and visitors. "'Data is the new bacon,' I love that statement," he said, referring to an apparently common phrase among city employees in San Diego. "Delicious, fantastic — I apologize if you're vegan — but both amazing, good, tasty, but also dangerous, cholesterol filled. It could kill you. And that's the big struggle that we're in the middle of right now. What do we do with it? Who owns it? Do you monetize? Do you not monetize? Nobody has the answer to that."