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Smart Cities: Moving from Discussion to a Call for Action

October 11, 2012 - 1 Comment

I am in San Francisco this week to attend a City Protocol workshop along with the Meeting of the Minds 2012 conference (Twitter: @meetoftheminds), which brings together thought leaders from the world’s most innovative organizations to spotlight fresh ideas in urban connectivity and sustainability.

All week, I’ve been surrounded by urbanists and city experts talking about ways to make cities better. At many city events worldwide, I see a lot of discussion that seems to center on “what” can be done to improve our cities. This week, however, I’ve heard people asking the presenters “how” the smart innovation actually happened. That is, they wanted to know who did what, and how it was developed, operated, and financed.

This clearly demonstrates that there is need for more replicable and usable information describing “how” Smart Cities are actually made to be smarter. To fill this need, one must understand how cities operate and how Smart City “indicators” are actually delivered.

The lack of understanding among many city leaders was apparent to me back in 2008 when I was working for the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, preparing the entire strategy for Masdar City. At the time, I was I was fortunate to have hundreds of architects, engineers, sustainability experts, and consultants working on this initiative. What became clear while preparing the strategy, however, was that most of this team didn’t really understand how a city operated holistically, as they were all highly qualified experts within sub-domains of an entire city. This caused great confusion when trying to put together so many separate pieces to create one uniform and consistent citywide strategy.

Similarly, in my travels for Cisco over the past few years to help cities and government leaders develop high-level Smart City strategies, I have seen the same lack of citywide understanding, which is causing a great amount of confusion and “wheel spinning.”

In my opinion, this lack of understanding is not sufficiently recognized or discussed.

To create a global dialogue on this topic, my Cisco IBSG colleague Shane Mitchell and I co-authored a Point of View paper, “Smart City Framework: A Systematic Process for Enabling Smart+Connected Communities,” which defines a framework designed to move the Smart City debate from merely an academic or esoteric discussion to a call for action. This paper proposes a possible framework for how we can begin to define and assess Smart City initiatives and, in the process, capture information consistently and comprehensively. I am also not simply talking about “city indicators,” which, while of great importance, cause confusion when discussing this topic, further reinforcing the need for a clear and agreed-upon Smart City Framework.

The good news is that groups such as the The City Protocol Society are already taking positive steps in this direction with the central aim of creating a science of cities. Eco-City Builders in the United States is also well aware of this situation and pushing the need for frameworks and understanding.

The debate is no longer about why a Smart City initiative is good for a city or what to do (which available options to choose), but instead about how to implement Smart City infrastructures and services, including the importance of a common language and a structured approach to implementation.

To learn more about building a Smart City Framework, click here. To discover more about leading urban innovations around the globe, please visit the Cisco IBSG Urban Innovations page.



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  1. I agree that, the debate is no longer about “why” a Smart City initiative “is good for a city or what to do” (which available options to choose), but instead about “how to implement Smart City infrastructures and services, including the importance of a common language and a structured approach to implementation”. in you own words…Thanks for sharing you interesting post, very informative, including your “White Paper”…