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A Tale of Two Cities Pursuing One Common Vision: The story of how urban economics, urban energy, urban environment get greener, cleaner, smarter because they’re better connected (Part 1)

Two events on the North American west coast, set apart by two days, each helped to set the tone for this year’s big debate about the future of cities.

Where exactly is the big debate, you might ask? Looking at the Presidential election season The New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Tom Friedman, bemoaned in early January, the fact that he just doesn’t “remember any candidate being asked in those really entertaining G.O.P. debates, ‘How do you think smart cities can become the job engines of the future, and what is your plan to ensure that America has a strategic bandwidth advantage?’”

At IBSG we know some of the most important elements of that alternative future for US cities. And we are engaged in intensive projects with our customers — cities like Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Vancouver — to shape it.

What are the real urban innovations that are making such cities possible?

On January 30 about 300 leaders — gathered from a half dozen countries — met up in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood for the “State of Green Business 2012.” One special session focused on a question that many are now asking: “Can San Francisco Be America’s First VERGE City?” According to the event organizers at GreenBiz Group, “VERGE describes a convergence taking place among energy, information, building, and transportation technologies that will revolutionize cities. Capitalizing on this convergence will require visionary political leaders, private-sector investors, and unprecedented partnerships among cities, companies, utilities, investors, and other institutions. San Francisco already has invested in green and smart technologies affecting vehicles, traffic management, building efficiency, and infrastructure.”

The organizers asked a good question, which served as the focus for our morning session: “What will it take for the ‘City by the Bay’ to be the showcase city for the coming convergence?”

What was the most important conclusion of that session’s discussion? My vote is for this one: to make real progress, a city of any kind needs at least one political leader — and preferably a coalition — who is ready to do more than talk, and who is ready to spend political capital. San Francisco Mayor Lee has already shown he’s ready to do so. One recent “show of force” was his January 2012 appointment of Jay Nath as the first — amongst any city — Chief Innovation Officer. While working for the city’s CIO, Jay helped drive the City’s big push into broadband, which enabled app developers to offer — on the network — amazing solutions to city residents.

Watch this space for my update on the second event, The Cities Summit in Vancouver.

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