Our Digital Strategy Lead, Rushi Ramachandrappa, blogs about our Smart City Strategies in Action event at Smart City Expo World Congress.
At this year’s Smart City Expo we brought together officials from around the world to kick off our research for our global review of smart city strategy. Here are some of the highlights.
Do you need a strategy anyway?
Smart city assessments and scoring typically start by asking, “Does your city have a vision?”. But as Steve Turner (Arup) pointed out, cities like Manchester have simply started working on projects without trying to bind them together in a single strategy. We need a better understanding of why you might want a strategy in the first place.
Mr Li Tie’s (China Center for Urban Development) counterpoint was revealing – he argued Chinese cities do need a strategy, saying the scale of the resource decisions for these cities is on a much larger scale. And I suspect this has a lot to do with how China is governed – a top-down, planned style of government needs a strategy.
Clearly, context affects not just the strategy, but its evolution.
What are we getting wrong?
Maybe it was the intimate venue or the relaxed atmosphere, but comments from the crowd quickly moved us to challenging the shiny image of smart cities advertised on the expo floor. Steve Turner and Jarmo Eskelinen (CITO for Future Cities Catapult) encouraged this, saying that our research programme will have failed if it does not address this challenge. Jarmo summed up his view by saying that the first generation of smart cities failed because they treated cities like companies, and a reboot is sorely needed.
The fact that city officials are eager and comfortable to talk about the failures of smart cities is a good thing – everyone agreed that we should learn from them. But the hard bit will be getting cities to talk honestly about their own failures. We couldn’t get our attendees to go that far (and that is our failure!), but we need to find a way.
Citizen engagement in a post-Brexit/Trump world
The shocking US election and Brexit results found their way into plenty of talks and discussions at the expo and this one was no exception. Steve Turner predicted that now politicians will have a ‘laser-like focus’ on understanding their electorates. For Jeff Merritt (New York City), the US result suggested that lessons learned in cities have to be shared with towns and rural communities to bridge the urban-rural divide.
Working with IT teams
Our research is trying to get to the practical experience of creating smart cities, so I was happy to hear a question from Jamie Cudden (Dublin) on how our panellists have managed to work with their IT teams. Zohar Sharon (Tel Aviv) took this on and exposed a tension between smart cities and traditional IT: “They used to rule the world…in the last ten years this has changed”.
Jeff Merritt added practical tips, “Often the IT staff don’t get any positive attention…one of the things we try and do is raise them up and highlight the work they are doing. And I think we can provide help with cutting through bureaucracy…They appreciate that and they will come to us”.
While the World Congress debated high concepts like data sovereignty and economic displacement, we were asking how cities got things moving on the ground. It is that understanding that we want to build, and in so doing encourage sharing of practical wisdom between cities.
To that end, we’re asking for more cities to share their experiences. If you would like to take part, please contact email@example.com to arrange an initial discussion.