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The Smart City Connection

Technology, policy and IoT connecting the smart city

You may have heard of the term “Connector” popularized by Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. I am one of them and I know that Connectors are happiest when they are doing these two things: (1) Connecting people or (2) Celebrating how seemingly separate things come together.

The recent advent and rise of IoT and Smart Cities is a Connector’s dreamland. What other subject integrates next-generation technology, the fusion of civic government and private sector innovation, and social impact issues like mobility, affordability and sustainability? Smart Cities address some of the world’s largest challenges at the most local level.  

There is no better place to learn urban tech best practices than in the most densely populated areas of the world. This October I will be traveling to China on a 2016 Zhi-Xing China Eisenhower Fellowship to research, listen and learn about Smart City innovation and investment.  My research will center on best practices and lessons learned across both the US and China. My role is to connect – or bridge – communities, industry experts and elected officials with the goal of sharing information that benefits all. I am so honored to study this rich area that fuses innovation and inspiration in the most interesting cities across the globe.

As the world becomes more urbanized, it is increasingly important that we continue to explore new ways to work together to discover creative, technology-driven solutions. Using this approach, cities truly can be the epicenter of innovation. However this can only be realized when there is collaboration and partnership between the public and private sectors.

When traditional “command and control” bureaucracy rules, progress is stymied and inefficiency reigns.  As Grant Millin, Guest Columnist, Citizen Times writes, “What is needed is a unifying communications and collaboration system not necessary managed by government only.” Leadership within city government would be wise to embrace a forward-thinking approach that encourages new ideas and new approaches to collaboration.

Growth requires change

There are signs that the tech sector is starting to catch onto this and get engaged in policy.  A few weeks ago in Austin, I had the pleasure of hearing Steve Case and several Austin tech executives talk about the role of regulation and government in the economy at an event promoting Case’s new book The Third Wave.  It was refreshing to see such enthusiasm from tech CEOs who want a different relationship than the traditional silo of government on one side and tech on the other. They clearly see how each can bring strengths which overcome the inherent weaknesses.

As I wrote in a follow up piece: “The private sector creates solutions that can be iterated quickly, spurring competition and innovation — all of which benefit consumers. We heard it loud and clear that the role of government should be to promote policies that support the innovation economy with regulations that are flexible, transparent and developed in collaboration with industry.” The US is not adept at this approach but there is a great hope that the opportunity for Smart City growth can inspire the change required.

Thank you for following me in this journey to learn about Smart Cities, explore new communities and connect people and organizations that have been historically silo’d. It’s bound to be an adventure.

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