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The 14 pillars of a smart city

Strategies must take a holistic approach encompassing people, institutions, structures and operations, say Clint Vince, founder of Dentons’ Smart Cities and Communities Think Tank, and Jennifer Morrissey, counsel at Dentons.

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The urgent mandates issued to cities in areas such as climate change and rapid urbanisation are frequently discussed under the rubric of “smart cities” but just what constitutes a smart city is elusive.

 

A successful smart strategy should take a holistic approach encompassing people, institutions, structures and operations across the connected ecosystem that makes up the city or community.

 

While there is necessarily much overlap among the components, a successful smart cities programme should focus simultaneously on 14 key pillars.

 

Government leadership and public policy

 

Building smart communities requires public officials at all levels of government to evaluate and implement the best solutions for their constituents’ most pressing problems. This is challenging at present. Whether by default or design, there is a lack of comprehensive decision-making.

 

As city and community needs change and technologies advance, there must be room for experimentation, change and even failure and learning.

 

Because development of a smart city requires breaking down bureaucratic silos and cooperating across city and community institutions, strong leadership and creative thinking are needed to implement engagement strategies, build consensus and set a plan in motion. Policy structures must also be established to enable and nurture the evolution of smart city programmes. Importantly, leaders must also be courageous.

 

As city and community needs change and technologies advance, there must be room for experimentation, change and even failure and learning.

 

Regulation

 

Regulatory structures at all levels must be assessed and adapted to accommodate deployment and adoption of new technologies and systems, while ensuring the trust and security of the people impacted. This ranges from creating incentives for businesses of all sizes to invest in advanced technologies, to efficiently designing regulations that lower development costs and speed of deployment.

 

It also entails regulatory attention to privacy and cybersecurity risks. This all requires a degree of future-proofing to ensure that the community can continue to leverage the benefits of ever-evolving technological advancements.

 

Technology and innovation

 

Technology is the rapidly accelerating driver of smart cities and communities. Not an end in itself, technology, when properly harnessed, facilitates modernisation, but can also allow cities to improve the enjoyment of everything that the community values. Leveraging advanced technologies does not mean that everything is new.

 

A successful smart strategy should take a holistic approach encompassing people, institutions, structures and operations across the connected ecosystem that makes up the city or community.

 

Advanced analytics enable integration of and improvements to existing systems. For example, by identifying data that is already collected for other purposes and using it to drive decisions and operations, and to provide new services in an efficient, innovative and cost-effective manner, constrained budgets can be optimised.

 

Telecommunications

 

Devices, people, businesses and government must all be able to connect quickly and securely to share data to improve daily activities. A meaningful smart and connected community strategy must contemplate how to pave the way for advanced telecommunications networks, including advocating policies to promote deployment of wireless connectivity infrastructure.

 

It must also facilitate development of compatible firmware and hardware to support today’s needs while looking forward to enable the digital and information technologies of tomorrow.

 

Cyber and physical security and privacy

 

Interconnectivity creates risk. Many existing brick, mortar and hard-wired systems were intentionally developed to be isolated in order to reduce risk of intrusion. The digital economy, however, depends on connected interoperability.

 

Cities and communities must craft approaches that simultaneously mitigate risk and maximise interconnectivity in order to realise benefits on a widespread scale. This involves engaging with researchers, technologists, policymakers and stakeholders to create systems that are physically secure, and that protect privacy while allowing for data-gathering and sharing to devise solutions to perennial and novel challenges faced by society.

 

Finance, investment and economic development

 

The elephant in the room in nearly every smart cities discussion is the question: who will pay for it? Because of the varied benefits that flow from smart infrastructure modernisation, many initiatives do not fit neatly within traditional municipal budgets or financing models.

 

Creativity is required, involving reaching across sectors.

 

Some innovative public-private partnerships are beginning to emerge, as well as use of traditional funding mechanisms such as rate base for electrical and water utility improvements.

 

Government, industry, philanthropy and community-based organisations all have an interest in making the smart approach work for inhabitants and may be poised to invest.

 

There is no single solution. Some innovative public-private partnerships are beginning to emerge, as well as use of traditional funding mechanisms such as rate base for electrical and water utility improvements. Optimum funding strategies may be identified from existing and untapped sources of capital, and new revenue streams.

 

Transportation and mobility

 

Reliable, efficient transportation and mobility infrastructure connects people with goods, services, employment, opportunities and one another.

 

When transportation infrastructure is powered by advanced technology, countless benefits are realised: reduced emissions and congestion from widespread use of electric car shares and automated vehicles; enhanced public safety from smart monitoring, reporting and routing of responders; economic development as underserved communities are connected with employment and development opportunities through data-driven mass transit.

 

It is fundamental to a modern, thriving economy.

 

Energy

 

Smart cities are electrified cities. Energy management is an essential component of any smart city strategy for purposes of reliability, efficiency and affordability. Far beyond replacing light bulbs, efficiency involves dynamic technology-based measures that allow a utility to control use or automate conservation.

 

It incorporates a multi-directional grid and advanced technology solutions that include a broad array of distributed energy resource and demand response, together with cost-effective means of ensuring reliability of service.

 

Water, wastewater and waste

 

Changing patterns in hydrology and higher expectations of reliability and quality of municipal water supplies require cities to critically examine water resources and delivery infrastructure from source to end-users.

 

Smart technologies can be used to monitor and manage delivery systems; enhance storage, treatment and recycling; and educate the public on conservation. With increasing population density, cities are also melding policy requirements, sustainability goals and technology to manage wastewater and solid waste.

 

Approaches to issues from recycling to long-term waste management, reduction and processing, to externalities such as fleet emissions and human behaviour, all represent opportunities for innovative, data-driven solutions.

 

City and green space planning and buildings

 

The physical spaces in which residents live, work and play are critical. Smart buildings that encourage productivity and efficiency are becoming foundational blocks for cleaner, healthier cities and communities.

 

Urban green spaces have become an essential component of sustainability and livability, bringing far more than aesthetics to city environments. For example, green roofs help with energy and water management, while vertical farming contributes to food access.

 

Benefits range from pollution abatement to pest control to soil conditions to physical and mental wellbeing so these spaces should be an integral part of city planning.

 

Environment, health and safety

 

Sustainability, public safety and health are primary policy concerns for community leaders and residents that should be woven into every aspect of city development, operations and services.

 

The proven correlation between cities’ environmental performance and their prosperity supports the pursuit of initiatives to rapidly accelerate cleaner, healthier, more viable growth through greening of urban infrastructure investments in efficiency and renewable energy technologies, and corresponding regulatory reform.

 

A community can only thrive if its members are interacting with and leveraging the resources and available services in a comprehensive, efficient, cost-effective and equitable manner.

 

Smart technologies offer myriad possibilities for improving health and safety. Among these are sensor technologies to monitor street and neighbourhood conditions, and mobile and remote health care services that improve quality of life for ageing populations by reducing dependence on hospitals or nursing homes.

 

Consumer engagement and community social infrastructure

 

Building broad community support for smart cities programmes is a complex process that requires significant outreach and collaboration with community anchor institutions, social service agencies, residents, businesses and other stakeholders.

 

A community can only thrive if its members are interacting with and leveraging the resources and available services in a comprehensive, efficient, cost-effective and equitable manner. The development of the smart strategy should involve public participation by those who will benefit or be impacted by it. A city or community is first and foremost about its people.

 

NGOs and universities

 

While developing smart infrastructure plans, local governments should engage with universities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide intellectual firepower and nurture public trust.

 

Many of these institutions already serve as incubators for pilot projects. They have longstanding success rates in collaboration, entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary approaches to projects. They also enjoy licence to experiment and even fail, which leads to learning and development of better outcomes.

 

Global best practices

 

Every city and community has its own history, culture and set of priorities. Nevertheless, cities and communities all over the planet are wrestling with similar issues of how to meet the needs of inhabitants sustainably and cost-effectively.

 

Exploding populations and massive trends of urban migration, particularly in the global south, mean that many innovative solutions will be brought to scale in those locations.

 

Communities everywhere can learn and benefit from what has been tested and applied in other cities and adapt these solutions to meet their individual priorities.

 

At the same time, many cities and communities across the globe are working on transformative technologies with broad application for smart cities and communities.

 

Communities everywhere can learn and benefit from what has been tested and applied in other cities and adapt these solutions to meet their individual priorities.

 

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