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Urban Tide retweeted a document that Cisco had compiled at its Internet of Things World Forum, in partnership with the Smart Cities Council. The title being 'Uncover Barriers and Opportunities for Smart Cities'.

Highly informative and impeccably presented, the report gave a fascinating insight into the current status quo with regards to smart cities in North America.  However the facts and issues raised could easily be applied anywhere else in the world, and the findings here are crucial in the global conversation of smart cities to make sure urban environments develop as they should.

Below are some thoughts and analysis on the work, that can be viewed in its entirety here.

1. Money Matters

The biggest inhibitor to any smart city, or smart city initiative, according to 35.4% of those surveyed, is cost.

This does not simply extend to the costs of setting up a project, but also the financial obligation involved to operate and sustain the venture. An interesting quote on what percentage of available funding goes towards day-to-day operations can be viewed below.

A new funding source could and arguably should be increased investment from the private sector. Not only could it be contended that there is an element of corporate social responsibility involved in furthering the smart cities cause but put simply the potential Return on Investments (ROIs) are staggering in a market forecasted to be worth $1.5 trillion by 2020.

A greater balance than the table below has to be sought, especially when governments the world over are looking for ways to save money.

2. Current Approaches are too Conservative

What is clear from this work is that there needs to be less talk and more action. Again this is representative of smart cities initiatives across the globe – as evidenced in our most recent India blog and Urban Tide’s experience in Scotland’s Smart Cities Readiness Assessment.

As the figure below evidences, well over half of those surveyed have begun planning smart cities projects – but the further along the spectrum towards full deployment these initiatives travel the more drastically the percentages fall. 13.9% of those who responded to the survey have seen a full deployment of 'Initial Projects' implemented which is not a satisfactory return given the prominence of the smart cities movement. Money will always be an issue, but will also, more often than not, be available one way or another. More calculated risks have to be taken to optimise the potential of this huge opportunity.

3. Current Approaches are too Disjointed

Aside from the financial element, upon closer inspection of the results, it would appear that a fragmented and disjointed approach is contributing to the somewhat underwhelming smart cities feedback in North America.

2/3 of respondents were found to have no cross-departmental team for Smart City Development. This is alarming for two reasons. Firstly, the issue is not being afforded the significance that it deserves and secondly, integration and synchronisation are benchmarks of sophisticated smart city projects and smart cities themselves. If the trend is to not have inter-related, departmental teams then the scope for incompatibility and inefficient delivery of initiatives is far greater than it perhaps should be. 

Along similar lines, 68% of respondents answered in the negative when posed the question ‘did you prepare a business plan for the upcoming or current Smart City investment’.This is a worrying statistic as the most important step and greatest indicator of commitment to an initiative is being routinely ignored. It also seems to vindicate the lack of private funding available as basic criteria are not being satisfied when it comes to courting investment. Any due diligence investigation would imperil chances of funding and because the figure quoted is so large, it tarnishes all Smart City projects, business plan or no, as likely to be ill informed and ill thought out. 

It could also be argued that there is a misalignment of smart cities ambitions and expectations from the feedback received (see below).

At Urban Tide we believe that people aswell as data and digital technologies etc are at the heart of any smart city project. Therefore 'Creating a more Attractive City and Improving the Quality of Life' should be inherent within every 'need and opportunity', rather than a stand alone objective. 

Furthermore, 'Enhancing the Cities' Global Attractiveness to Business and for Economic Development', should be a natural by-product of smart cities and smart cities initiatives. To have it as a isolated 'need and opportunity' (especially one so high ranking) could be to the detriment of those already living and working in the city and adds a superficial element to projects that are deployed in this area.

"If you build it, they will come..." 

At its most linear, the data collected for the survey itself tells the story as it stands. Of the 40,000 subscribers to the Smart Cities Council Newsletter, the vast majority being municipal experts, 668 responded to the survey that was issued. This is a response rate of 1.67%. It is clear that smart cities are not as prominent on the radar of those with the power to move things forward.  Yet.  Hopefully.

The potential of the opportunity and the solutions that smarter cities can offer to the challenges we will encounter as our global population living in urban areas increases makes this a matter of urgent priority.

4. Progress Does Exist

All this being said, the US has some fantastic examples of smart cities innovation, providing invaluable guidance and examples to the global conversation. For instance, both Chicago and New York have made giants strides with regards to Open Data platforms and the mobile carrier Verizon are rumoured to be building their own smart city, tapping directly into the huge potential of the 'Internet of Things'.

These projects are extremely exciting but have to be examples to follow rather than stand-alone innovations.

The last page of the document as featured below included 10 Top Tips which if followed, should go a long way to achieving this goal.

In Conclusion

At the the time of writing, the smart cities movement in America could be perceived as lacking  a bit of incentive, innovation and urgency. Smart cities initiatives are at their best when they are proactive, collaborative, organised from inception and with a clear end goal in mind - usually with citizens at their heart. 

It is not all doom and gloom though - not by a long shot. There are some stunning pilot projects going on across the pond and the impression that exists is that all is needed is a jolt to really kick the smart cities movement into gear in America. This would result in hugely encouraging progress both there and globally.

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