New York City Takes Top Prize

Photo credit: Hector Perez

Photo credit: Hector Perez

December 8, 2016 The “Best Smart City of 2016” was named at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona and the coveted spot went to no other than New York City. As the largest city in the country with the world’s largest economy, that may not come as a huge shock.  But given all of the accolades of cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, London in addition to the huge strides I was able to witness in large cities across China, I was actually a little surprised.

One of the reasons New York received top marks is that the city leadership has prioritized a few high-profile projects as profiled in this Cities Today article.  This list can be interpreted as set of simple guidelines that other cities can use to create their own unique version of becoming a smart city.

Here are some of the principles that helped New York City rise to the top:

1)   Prioritizing Connectivity

Fast and reliable Internet connectivity is a must in today’s modern economy. America has led 4G innovation and so we, as Americans, have grown accustomed to having instant Internet wherever we live work and play. But as usage increases, so does network congestion. NYC recognizes this and has developed Link NYC as a landmark project.  Wifi across five boroughs is a great place to start but it is also important to realize this is a piece of a larger system-wide solution of connected networks. The ideal solution a robust broadband platform combined with mobile broadband networks, small cell and other network traffic alleviation tools in addition to a wifi solutions that offers convenient access. All of these combined create a truly viable network that can handle the sensors and data that will be a part of a true smart city. And in ten years we can expect more than 100 billion of these devices so the time to put the policies in place for the next generation of these networks is now.

2)   The Innovation Ecosystem

A smart city must message a very clear mandate to think differently, to tap entrepreneurial approaches and develop interesting, effective solutions to a city’s biggest challenges. New York has created “a digital discovery tool to help government agencies discover smart city solutions” with This concept reminds me of Pittsburgh’s Beacon project, a modern procurement tool for government services.  These two projects may not be a comprehensive solution for all public sector issues, but it is certainly a step in the right direction to create a stronger link between the citizens and local government.

3)   Start Small and Scale

Using the notion that no idea is a bad idea, Urban Tech NYC provides a space for entrepreneurs to build, test and scale smart city solutions. Location matters and it’s not feasible to expect local governments to come up with all of the solutions within city hall walls. But by collaborating with creative thinkers and people who like to disrupt dysfunctional systems, the city can partner with the right people, launch pilots and prove technologies to create more sustainable cities. The number of coworking spaces, incubators and accelerators are on the rise in cities around the world and are quickly becoming part of a global model to encourage innovation. In an economic development region called Future City in Hanzhou, China, for example, there were 27 incubators in an area of only a few square miles and hundreds more across the city.

4)   Clear Guidelines

When the city’s top leadership communicate a clear and concise vision, people from the public and private sector understand what needs to happen. Clarity paves the way to success. Cities across the country, including New York City, are creating Office of Technology & Innovation, appointing full time staff and resources in order to provide a clearinghouse for smart city strategy and implementation. Leveraged correctly, this can be an office that helps other departments realize cost savings as they leverage technology to replace inefficient and expensive systems. Big Belly Trashcans with their connected sensor technology is a perfect example. Instead of routine garbage collection, trucks are called when sensors alert that the bin is full, reducing staff time, truck dispatch, traffic congestion and even road wear and tear.

City leaders and citizens would be smart to notice what helped NYC take it home and adopt their own version of points 1 – 4. Other checklists and guidelines are available to help including Digi.City’s New Generation Networks Checklist as well as Machina’s Smart City Webinar: Learn Best Practices From 22 Smart Cities. Even though we are only in the beginning of the Smart Cities boom, there is already much to celebrate and ultimately citizens will be the winners. 

Policy, USAChelsea Collierpolicy