Outside US, central governments urged to boost smart city initiatives

Source: Smart Cities Dive | Chris Teale | August 1, 2019

Dive Brief:

  • It is not just U.S. cities that are urging the federal government to be more active in supporting innovation and smart city initiatives. Other countries appear to be struggling with a lack of central support in terms of finance and policy, said speakers at the Dentons Smart Cities and Communities Summit in Washington, DC.

  • Michal Olszewski, deputy mayor of Warsaw, Poland, said that while the city aims to be progressive in encouraging alternative energy sources in its fight against climate change, policy at the national level is still too dependent on fossil fuels. "Without coherence, without the change of policy on different levels, we're never going to have success," he said during a panel discussion.

  • Australia is experimenting with federal grants to encourage cities to take on smart initiatives, but the amount of money on offer is limited. Ben Meek, executive vice president for strategy and growth at Utilligent, said 80 cities recently shared 50 million Australian dollars ($34.2 million USD), a number that barely scratches the surface. "We might be heading in the direction of being smart, but we're not actually putting our money where our mouth is in Australia at the moment," he said.

Dive Insight:

International cities appear to share the frustrations of their U.S. counterparts, which are looking to do all manner of things including invest in public transitfight climate change and take greater control of their laws.

However they often find a federal government — and sometimes state governments — unwilling or unable to support them.

In the face of those long odds, many cities across the world have shown what is possible.

Olszewski said Warsaw now spends four times as much on public transit as it does on road maintenance, and in making that investment it has encouraged less car use downtown and helped the city cut down its greenhouse gas emissions.

The city has used that money to invest in light and heavy rail, and in electric buses, with those investments coming after a long period of community engagement and a participatory budget processes to understand where residents wanted the money to be spent.

Multiple speakers said that when the central government plays a role in supporting city development, the results can be strong. Chima Nkemdirim, vice president of government relations at Canadian telecom company Shaw Communications, said the country's recent Smart Cities Challenge brought out various creative ideas for how federal investment can be leveraged.

Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. and Canada, Javlon Vakhabov, said that as his country looks to build smarter cities, using central funds has helped encourage foreign investors. The Uzbek Parliament's passage of legislation to formalize the use of public-private partnerships (P3s) has been key in helping accelerate initiatives. He said the "entire republic is being reconstructed" for the 21st century.

Despite what might seem like difficult circumstances, cities are the place where leadership happens on many issues.

In a speech, Dentons global chairman Joe Andrew called on city leaders to face down the serious issues that face residents’ everyday lives and be leaders where state and federal governments are not leading.

"It's not just that cities are smart," Andrew said. "Cities are the adults in the room.”

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