Smart City Networks: The New World Order for Innovation

Rhonda Binda, Esq.

Thought Piece for Cities, Geopolitics and the International Order Workshop

Perry World House, University of Pennsylvania

September 5-6, 2019

Urbanization has inextricably changed the global world order, giving power to cities over states, provinces and national governments. Cities are seizing the day and are making a significant impact on matters that have historically fallen within the purview of national governments, foreign policy and law. With the rise of urbanization, the manner in which cities innovate has also changed,  becoming increasingly democratic and decentralized. Overall, this “devolution of decision making” allows innovation to occur in cities – not just within the default assumptions of Shenzhen and San Francisco.

Lines are becoming blurred between cities, states and nations – creating new networks that ignore traditional political boundaries. Silos are also breaking down across institutions– whether it is the community, government, business or academia. Cities and regions are beginning to develop common strategic visions to collaborate and better leverage technology and data for smarter, more connected communities and improved policy outcomes. Cities are also collaborating in novel ways by sharing data and best practices in a race to pro-actively shape and control their futures instead of the future shaping them. Because of urbanization and the smart city movement, these new networks are interacting in increasingly mutually beneficial ways, and at larger scale, for a more inclusive impact and influence far beyond their municipal lines. Ultimately,  those cities that have placed “smart city” strategies at the top of their agendas by supporting innovation ecosystems and by successfully utilizing the power of public private partnerships have emerged stronger and in more powerful in many ways. 

How U.S. Cities, Regions and Government are Venturing Smarter

The rise of cities has resulted in increased competition between them: to attract jobs and investment, modernize infrastructure as populations grow, maintain a high quality of life for its residents and to train the workforce they will require in the future. Successful cities have taken visionary dynamic approaches to city planning by forging “smart city” or “smart region” agendas. Thousands of cities globally have embarked on this with specific frameworks, as with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Smart City Roadmap; or the Greater Washington (D.C.) Board of Trade leading a multifaceted smart region movement in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. They are creating smart city and regional plans and innovating today in order to be able to maintain the ability to shape what their cities and regions look like in the future. 

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment and former Chairman and CEO of Ariba and DocuSign, the Honorable Keith Krach, shared his perspective on innovation and transformational leadership recently with Chief Executive (interview by Patrick Gorman, January 8, 2019). In his remarks, Krach challenged leaders to consider “the future they want to create, so it’s always starting with the end in mind.” This approach being taken by the cities and regions creating smart city and regional agendas is strengthening their positions as economic engines and innovation hubs and have contributed to their rise as they increasingly influence national policy and global agendas, like their state and local policies for climate change, anti-BDS and human rights and sex-trafficking.

And new networks are being created within cities as they become smarter. With the increasing incursion of technology into our lives and communities, local leaders are strategizing. Governors and mayors are rising to the challenge of working with technology directly to digitize their governments for better operational efficiencies and delivery. They are leveraging the Internet of Things, emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Augmented and Virtual Reality and blockchain. The data collected from these new sources is expanding at an exponential rate. That increased density of data is leading to more effective evidence based policymaking informing and at times outpacing policymaking at the national and foreign policy levels. 

In the United States, the city leadership caught the attention of two visionary and technology expert U.S. Members of Congress, Representative Yvette Clarke from New York and former Representative Daryll Issa of California, who sought to create the first ever congressional caucus focused on developing smart cities and regions. Their stated goal was to build a bridge between the burgeoning smart city movement and Capitol Hill, to better close the gaps between the work of the federal government and our cities and regions and to coordinate policymaking with changing technology. 

In 2018, the U.S. Congress, along with the assistance of Venture Smarter, officially launched the bi-partisan Congressional Smart Cities Caucus around three pillars for smart city policy: for all communities to have 100% connectivity (broadband access and 5G), 100% mobility (transportation equity and economic mobility) and 100% resilience (the elements of physical security, cyber security and sustainability are also essential). The Co-chairs added a fourth pillar to focus on the future of work.

The Caucus embarked on a series of ongoing briefings centered around these four pillars, and involved fifty existing Congressional Committees. The Caucus has already produced unprecedented intergovernmental cooperation and a new professional network of technology experts within government. The impact of these efforts within the cities and regions that are connecting to federal partners not only in Congress, but with the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, and Transportation has been impressive. In addition, federal agencies are sourcing new ideas, technologies and networks to assist with their agendas and to inform their policy decisions for better national policy outcomes as a result of the closely integrated intergovernmental relationships enabled by the Congressional Smart Cities Caucus.

The Power of P3s: Meshing New City, Regional and Data Networks

At the heart of the most successful smart cities and regions is strong stakeholder collaboration via public private partnerships. Venture Smarter has a deep knowledge of this, and so one of the requirements of the 2018 Smart Infrastructure Challenge was that each applicant include state, local, private sector and non-profit partners in their proposals. Over 250 governments participated as a result and teams were required to search for partners who shared their vision and values and complemented each others’ capabilities. Over 90 teams applied with over 75 identified regional networks currently partnering to move their communities forward, like the Hampton Roads – Norfolk – Virginia Beach team that won the challenge. With this growing smart city and regions movement, thousands of stakeholders are collaborating towards common goals and sharing assets, knowledge and resources.

The rise of data and its increasing prevalence, availability and accessibility has become one of the most significant assets emerging at the center of well-structured public-private partnerships. At the launch of the 2018 Smart Infrastructure Challenge at the National Press Club, Congressman Brendan Boyle from Philadelphia asked that cities think beyond the usual regarded infrastructure assets. He said that infrastructure is “commonly thought of as road bridges rail – water and sewer systems, (and) electrical grids. We have to also ensure that infrastructure is broad enough to include IT Systems and all of these technologies that make a difference in cities.” As cities and regions continue to hone in on the synergies of their networks sharing resources, knowledge and assets, it becomes obvious that data is an essential factor.

Unlike roads and bridges, data is malleable and can be segregated, segmented, aggregated and manipulated. Stakeholders are currently developing principles for the sharing of information between and among partnership and technology networks. Clear data sharing principles are essential for gaining the trust of data system owners. Data sharing agreements must take into account ethics and respect privacy concerns of individual citizens. 

For example, in the U.S. once again state and local actors are progressing beyond national policy. Anti-discriminatory algorithm legislation is currently under consideration in New York. Stringent privacy policies have passed in California. The new city networks created by the various systems, sensors, apps and stakeholders themselves will continue to grow. There will be more policy about the regulation of this data emerging locally. These systems are likely to be tested locally, as to how best layered data networks can and should interact with one another. This will become especially true with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, which comes with its own particularly previously unexplored complex and sensitive implications.

Going Beyond City Limits

There is a new world order rapidly unfolding through the growing smart city networks putting innovation, public private partnerships and data sharing at the top of their agendas. Whereas the transition from the industrial age involved innovations that came primarily from giant corporations, the rise of cities and their smart city approaches have been a result of networks of smaller and medium sized organizations propagating new ideas and technologies. As cities continue to engage with these profound changes, they are doubling down on their competitive advantages and their economies are stratifying along specialties of particular localities differentiating themselves from others. They are also forging regional alliances giving them the ability to further strengthen their influence and impact. This new approach puts more power into the hands of cities allowing them to impact regional, national and global policy. As transformation continues at the local level and institutional networks grow across and between people and systems, the actions of cities and regions will require national and international actors to adjust their programs and operations to incorporate these critical innovations. In closing, cities are taking a seat at the policy table on national and global issues impacting them and driving new models for innovation.

Categories: Comparative Advantage, Global Hub, Smart Cities

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