Top 5 takeaways from Smart Cities Connect 2018

Source: Smart Cities Dive on April  2, 2018 | Chris Teale

Using failure as a learning moment and building partnerships are among the lessons from the three-day conference in Kansas City, MO.

he 2018 Smart Cities Connect conference in Kansas City, MO brought together officials from various levels of government as well as those in business and academia, all to discuss the evolution of smart cities and what communities can do to stay at the forefront of that evolution.

Organizers estimated nearly 2,000 attendees joined the discussion over three days, with more than 400 cities from the United States and across the world represented. They listened to keynote addresses and panel discussions on a variety of topics, including autonomous vehicles (AVs), data, blockchain and infrastructure. And businesses had the chance to showcase their smart city technology, both in the conference’s expo and on stage with live demonstrations.

Here are five trends Smart Cities Dive identified from the speeches and panel discussions at the event, as well as from interviews with stakeholders.

1. Failure is an option, so long as it’s a learning moment

As cities look to innovate and use technology to improve residents’ lives, they shouldn't be afraid to fail, so long as they learn from the experience and the financial impact isn't too large from that failure. "When smart cities go bad, sometimes it’s a good thing," Kansas City CIO Bob Bennett said in a keynote speech.

While San Diego’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer David Graham acknowledged failures can leave a "sour taste" among residents and government officials, various speakers emphasized it can be helpful in the long-term. "This whole concept of failing is about learning," Aurora, IL CIO Michael Pegues said in a speech.

2. Teamwork makes the dream work, both inside and outside government

Another key tenet of the conference’s panel discussions and speeches was the need to form partnerships to help makes cities smarter, both across government departments and between the public sector and private businesses. Mark De la Vergne, Detroit’s Chief of Mobility Innovation, said during a panel discussion Michigan’s regional effort to prepare for the growth of AVs took that into account, as neighboring cities took a "We’re learning, you’re learning, let’s try and learn together," approach.

Kate Garman, Smart Cities Coordinator for the City of Seattle, said engaging with the business community on new technology and innovations could mean "thinking outside your normal box, whatever that means" and fostering a closer relationship. Danny Rotert, senior strategic consultant at Burns & McDonnell, said innovation "happens across your organization and should be celebrated across your organization," referring to either government or business.

And for businesses, partnering with cities means they need to “reimagine the way we work with cities, understand their feedback and their problems,” Alex Keros, Smart Cities Chief at Maven, General Motors’ urban mobility arm, told Smart Cities Dive. "It’s looking at the data and saying, ‘How do we go and try new things, and make it so we can test things?'" he added.

3. Cities must engage residents on all projects at all levels

Those partnerships are also crucial between cities and their residents, especially the need for governments to show how smart city solutions make residents’ lives easier. During a panel discussion, Garman expressed concerns that cities are doing smart cities projects “for the sake of saying they’re a smart city and not realizing what it’s for."

Speakers said it can be helpful to set expectations for projects early on and give residents a seat at the table throughout, especially in educating them of the benefits and letting them test out new innovations. Farrah Cambrice, a professor at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, TX, said that means "treating your community less like research subjects and more like co-principal investigators” as projects are tested and refined.

Lafayette, LA Mayor Joel Robideaux said engaging residents can take many forms when a project is in place, especially something complex like a city’s use of cryptocurrency. Lafayette refers to that form of payment as “Crypteaux” as a nod to residents’ French heritage, and Robideaux said its use can be as small as by incentivizing residents "to pick up litter or whatever and reward them with a Cajun coin or whatever we come up with."

4. An equitable approach is a lasting one

Multiple city leaders said smart city innovations must also be carried out with all residents in mind and be equitably beneficial for everyone. "The inclusive approach to this is what’s going to make it sticky and give it longevity,” Graham said.

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