Roadmap to a smart city master plan
Cities have a unique opportunity to enable the seamless integration of new technologies that will help meet societal challenges, while efficiently and equitably providing essential services to residents and businesses. The digitization and electrification of technologies, sharp increase in the quantity and speed of data transmitted, and rapid rise of artificial intelligence all offer cities substantially greater insight into system operations, and the means to improve communications, response times, livability, sustainability and resiliency.
At its essence, a smart city is about the modernization of digital, physical and social infrastructure to improve the lives of its citizens. Whether dubbed “smart” or “connected” or “modernized,” the idea is to build on foundations that are already in place while keeping pace with the confluence of massive urbanization and rapid advances in technology. A smart city strategy uses technology and data to manage change and expand capacities to enhance city operations and make maximal use of resources, both new and existing and across all departments.
Upgrades such as a multidirectional electrical grid, self-healing electric circuits, advanced telecommunications, sensors, electric and autonomous vehicle infrastructure, and the like, will make life dramatically more convenient for community inhabitants while enabling the government to more effectively respond to environmental stresses. A smart city strategy also provides an extraordinary opportunity to ensure that these systems support public safety, disaster response, traffic management, public transit and universal access to the internet, all in a manner that preserves the character of the community and is responsive to the needs of all its residents. But to accomplish this, city leaders, utilities, businesses, citizens and other stakeholders must work together toward a shared vision of their future.
The first step toward harnessing technological developments for the benefit of a city’s inhabitants is to develop a smart city master plan. Importantly, a smart master plan is neither an advocacy document nor a recommendation for any specific technology. Rather, a smart master plan defines the common goals and aspirations of the community and its leaders and outlines an implementation strategy for achieving those goals.
A successful initiative will craft the smart master plan with input from, and the cooperation of, all stakeholders. An inclusive process that gives both residents and businesses a voice in shaping their city or community should be established. The plan should not be a document drafted by a politician, consultant, tech company or other third party and then handed over to city departments for implementation. Nor should it be a document that is easily discarded or ignored when a change in administration occurs. It should be considered a living document with community support over the longer-term.
A smart master plan should first articulate the vision of the community. It should complement and take full advantage of improvement efforts currently underway, but also be an adaptable platform to integrate new technological advances as they become available and new common goals as they are adopted.
Step two is to conduct an audit of existing infrastructure to identify where there is a disconnect between your capabilities and your core needs. Infrastructure includes physical assets and available data, but also social constructs and values of the community. An effective, actionable smart audit will do more than simply list city assets. It will bring to light opportunities to leverage data, streamline operations, improve governance structures, boost economic welfare within the community and reach under-served communities.
Though tailored for a specific community, a smart master plan may also be informed by lessons learned and best practices developed in other communities dealing with similar issues. Building a smart city/community requires bringing together existing infrastructure, local history and culture, urban issues, and citizen priorities, and interweaving them with new technological structures, developments, and ideas in a holistic manner to address needs and solve problems in a tapestry that is constantly changing. The implementation of any smart master plan necessarily involves a degree of learning and experimentation.
A community can leverage the experience of others to enhance its own initiatives.
Next, the smart master plan should identify potential partners, as well as funding and financing mechanisms, for smart infrastructure deployment. There is plenty of room for creativity in structuring projects and funding, and there will be opportunities for involvement of traditional city planners, technologists, and institutions as well as many asymmetrical players.
Because a smart city/community is a progression rather than an end, a smart city master plan should allow for refinement and adaptation as circumstances, priorities and technologies evolve; include regular assessments to ensure that it is on track to meet current objectives; and include mechanisms for accountability and clear measures of success that are accessible and understandable.
Finally, while advances in technology are the vehicle that makes improved coordination and integration of services possible, a smart city/community is first and foremost about people. All aspects of a smart city/community should be driven by the needs and desires of community inhabitants as they seek a better quality of life, easier access to information and the efficient delivery of services. A solid smart city master plan to modernize infrastructure will be permeated by this essential theme and will benefit the lives of all citizens in the community.
Clint Vince, is chair, U.S. Energy Practice and the co-chair, Global Energy Sector at Dentons. Jennifer Morrissey is co-editor-in-chief, Dentons Smart Cities Think Tank Editorial Board and counsel, US Energy Practice, Global Energy Sector at Dentons.