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Creating a path for smart city success April 1, 2019 | Bill Wallace, Executive Director, US Ignite

To see a smart city in motion, many of us in the United States needn’t look too far. We simply pick up our phones. If we need a ride, we can already get around without needing to park by using a car share, electric bike or scooter. But smart cities can be so much more.

Imagine safely sharing the roadway with bikes, cars, delivery vehicles, school buses and pedestrians where all are able to communicate while minimizing collisions, traffic and pollution.

We can already see street lights that turn on at dusk and reliably light the street in front of our home. Now imagine street lights that create a network of image and noise sensors that can alert officials to hazards and dispatch emergency services instantly.

These and thousands of advancements have been developed and are awaiting deployment. These innovations are engaging the minds of software developers, technologists, students, urban planners and industry partners to take smart cities to the next level.

US Ignite helps to guide communities, including St. Petersburg, Fla., the 27th Smart Gigabit Community, toward the adoption of this connected future. A nonprofit launched in 2012, we got our start by advancing the technology research at the heart of smart city development. As we expanded our efforts, we became focused on the ecosystem of innovation, industry and community to drive adoption of smart city solutions to meet citizen needs.

Working with local executives and elected officials, we directly support partnerships that create a path for entrepreneurial and private sector growth, new job creation, and broad-reaching economic development. In my role as executive director, I’m often asked how cities can best pursue these goals. Here are my answers to three of these questions.

What is the role of public-private partnerships (PPP) in accelerating the development of smart cities?

PPPs bring an intersection of private sector technology and innovation to provide better public service through improved operational efficiency. They facilitate opportunities to speed up smart city development.

For example, US Ignite helps mobilize resources for smart city innovation within a tightly-knit network of connected and data-driven communities nationwide. These communities are exploring new ways to leverage smart city technologies to improve the lives of their residents. Often, these same communities may lack the relationships with network providers, a clear map of the communities existing assets, or an understanding of the model practices shared from others already on this path.

What advice do you have for city officials embarking on smart city initiatives?

Before adopting a technology solution, procuring hardware or installing the first smart LED light pole, engage with local leaders in the community, stakeholders from large anchor institutions (libraries, universities, community groups), speak openly, and seek feedback about such plans with the community-at-large. It’s important to socialize the management of change that is responsive to local needs and concerns. This type of community engagement goes a long way toward ensuring deployment of smart city technologies that truly benefit citizens.

What are biggest challenges—and solutions—facing cities as they look to implement smart initiatives?

Communities are facing new challenges in economic development, education, talent retention, transportation management, and more. Consumers with smartphones and smart cars move freely across city, state, and federal properties and they expect the same, fluid response and support from their community.

Increasingly, because constituents use technology every day, they expect governments to deliver automated services online so that they can avoid needless paperwork and visits to city hall. Building broad-based solutions with simple and transparent governance structures and regional support ensures that the smart city ecosystem—the private sector, higher education partners, and municipalities—can work collaboratively to boost local innovation, increase the number of quality local jobs and improve the quality of life.

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