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Inaugural report card on US smart city progress: “Disappointing”

Of 24 cities, Seattle received the highest rating overall and St. Louis the lowest.


In the inaugural Leading Cities Rating, the four highest-rated cities received a B+ and the lowest a C-. No single American city achieved the top A+ rating.


The initiative evaluated 24 US cities across 45 indicators.


The highest-rated cities, achieving a B+ rating, were Seattle, Washington; Boulder, Colorado; and San Francisco and Berkeley, California. Seattle scored highest overall. The lowest rating among the cities was given to St Louis with a C-. D- is the lowest rating possible.


The first cohort of cities – Atlanta, Berkeley, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Dallas, El Paso, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Norfolk, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tulsa and Washington – was selected based on their participation in the 100 Resilient Cities programme, a recently scaled-back initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation.


A statement from Leading Cities said: “With the focus and investment these cities received to advance their resiliency efforts, it was believed they would be among the most advanced US cities in terms of becoming smart cities.”


In April, the Rockefeller Foundation announced that it would end the $164 million grant that funded the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) programme, with some of the funding going to a new $30 million grant at the Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience at the Atlantic Council. In July, the Foundation committed an initial $8 million to continue supporting the work of chief resilience officers and member cities within the 100 Resilient Cities Network.




“These inaugural results are no doubt disappointing for America,” said Michael Lake, President and CEO of Leading Cities.


He added: “Though the United States remains the world’s greatest launchpad for smart city start-ups, the rate of implementation among US cities is far lower than adoption rates in places like Europe, where the European Union has invested hundreds of billions to make its cities smarter.


“American cities are at a global disadvantage resulting from the lack of federal funding to support smart city solutions and infrastructure upgrades.”


American cities are at a global disadvantage resulting from the lack of federal funding to support smart city solutions and infrastructure upgrades.


Earlier this year, the Smart Cities and Communities Act was reintroduced by members of both houses of Congress. A similar bill failed to pass in 2017 after stalling in committee. If passed, the Smart Cities and Communities Act could provide approximately $200 million a year for five years to advance the implementation of smart city solutions around the country.


Lake said the findings of the Leading Cities Rating also highlight the need for more public-private partnerships: "The bigger story here is the vast opportunity for America’s public, private and non-profit sectors to collaboratively take action and begin achieving real and positive impacts to build smarter, more resilient and sustainable cities.


“Cities cannot do it alone. In less than 10 years, $78 trillion worth of city investments in infrastructure are required and around the world. No city has that kind of money.”


How cities were rated


The Leading Cities Rating is powered by Bright Cities, which provides a data-driven platform to create smart city roadmaps. The methodology applies advanced analytics to publicly available data (cities are not engaged directly) to analyse a city’s performance against 45 indicators from ten dimensions of a smart city: Governance, economy, education, entrepreneurship, environment, health, mobility, security, technology and energy. Cities’ ratings are categorised on a scale ranging from A+ to D-.


At the category level, several cities scored an A+, including Seattle and Washington for energy, and Seattle and San Francisco for education.


The largest number of low scores for any single indicator came from two indicators: percentage of commuters travelling to work using a mode other than a personal vehicle, and percentage of total energy derived from renewable sources, as a share of the city’s total energy consumption.


Rating vs ranking


The Rating aims to shift the way smart city transformations are measured.


Lake said: “We rated cities against an ideal – the collection of best scores for each of the 45 indicators we looked at – and as cities improve, that ideal automatically improves.”


Leading Cities and Bright Cities say that rating cities is more useful than ranking them.


Lake told SmartCitiesWorld: “[With a ranking system], no matter how far from being smart a city might be, somebody still has to occupy the number-one spot so it doesn’t set the bar in exactly the right place.


"A bigger problem with rankings is that they create a ‘zero-sum’ game – in order for one city to move up, another city has to be forced down. That creates a false sense of competition between cities, which is the antithesis of what Leading Cities is all about.”


Rankings create a ‘zero-sum’ game – in order for one city to move up, another city has to be forced down.


Lake admits that it would be easy for cities to ignore such ratings, especially if they fare poorly.


However, he adds that ratings of this type could become increasingly important. “We’re working on partnerships with the real estate industry, for instance, to have the Leading Cities Rating be among the measures site selection specialist will use in recommending a city as a place for a corporation to open a new branch or expand,” he said.


In future, Leading Cities plans to apply the rating to cities beyond the US.