As government spending on the internet of things is expected to reach $12 billion in 2020, creating smart infrastructure is a topic of concern for officials at all levels of government. At Bloomberg Government’s “Women in Smart Cities Forum,” sponsored by Verizon on June 15, 2018, women working at the city, state and federal levels of government shared their strategies for creating smarter cities.
Federal infrastructure efforts
In a panel called, “Crafting a National Strategy for Smart Cities,” Gail Slater of the White House National Economic Council and congresswomen Yvette Clarke, D-NY, and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., discussed federal efforts to create and maintain the nation’s digital infrastructure. Earlier this year, Clarke founded the Smart City Caucus, which is exploring best practices that can be incorporated even into small communities.
- Spectrum and 5G: A major concern of federal digital infrastructure efforts is setting up spectrum for 5G, Slater said. 5G is the generation on which smart cities will run, and the federal government will play a crucial role in making that happen, she added.
- Accessibility: The panelists noted the need to include low-income and rural areas in infrastructure plans. Clarke said that the Airwaves Act addresses equal access, “so we build out infrastructure for the 21st century that’s fair.”
- Sustainability: Educating tomorrow’s smart city employees is also a priority in infrastructure planning, DelBene added, underscoring the need for appropriate access to technology education and workforce training in light of near constant technological change. Clarke also mentioned that infrastructure maintenance may be a challenge in the future, agreeing with DelBene that citizens must be trained to engage with smart infrastructure and its maintenance.
- Data Security: Challenges surrounding data security apply to digital infrastructure as they do to most technological advances of late. DelBene allowed that there are significant inconsistencies between physical and digital rules. She cited the example that police don’t need a search warrant to retrieve an email from someone’s inbox where they would need one if it were a physical letter stored in the suspect’s home. Many of these problems would be addressed by the Email Privacy Act, she added. Clarke suggested a way to ensure best practices in cybersecurity are being used by all organizations using government-related infrastructure. “We’ve got to make it such that people feel confident in our ability to protect them,” she said.
During the keynote conversation, “The Mayors’ Perspectives,” Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh and Gary, Ind., mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson talked about their cities’ successes and challenges in infrastructure. Both mayors stressed the importance of effective partnerships with government officials at the state and federal levels as well as with local private industry.
- Sustainability: Like congresswomen Clarke and DelBene, mayors Pugh and Freeman-Wilson acknowledged that part of the challenge of preparing for smart cities is workforce development. While discussing the potential of public-private partnerships (P3s), Freeman-Wilson was quick to mention that a component of all infrastructure projects should be making sure local people have opportunities to be employed in our cities.
- Transparency: When asked about establishing a link between digital and physical infrastructure, Freeman-Wilson said that governments needed to be clear with the community about its reasoning behind all infrastructure decisions. “Just help them understand how it benefits them,” she said. Pugh agreed, explaining, “All of it is about job creation.” She suggested that the government could take on some of the burden of creating a strong workforce by administering some technology-based job training programs.
- Problem-based solutions: Creative solutions and partnerships between government and private institutions are a result of collaboration, Freeman-Wilson said. Addressing P3s, she said, “You have to understand what the private sector is looking for.” For example, she pitched her city’s airport and its unused surrounding area as a place for P3 development, as her city is in a desirable shipping location. Pugh’s infrastructure advice for government officials is as follows: “See problems as assets.”
Hearing from city hall
The “Change Agents in City Hall” panel brought together the chief digital officer of Boston, Jeanethe Falvey; managing director of smart cities and inclusive innovation at Georgia Tech, Debra Lam; and, director of civic engagement and strategy in New York City’s mayoral office of data analytics, Adrienne Schmoeker.
- Accessibility: Falvey and Schmoeker work to make important city-related data accessible to the public. Falvey also said her office has been taking steps to make the city government more approachable and attractive to new talent. Recently, Falvey oversaw a successful digital initiative to make death certificates available online in Boston.
- Sustainability: Project sustainability and change management are increasingly central concerns with new digital infrastructure and technology plans, Schmoeker said. Because of that, key performance indicators need to change. Rather than measuring success by the number of new launched initiatives, there’s now a need to focus on user statistics and data on users’ behavior to find out what change they’re effecting, she explained. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” she said.
- Problem-based solutions: Lam added that the original thought around smart cities was, “Bigger is better.” Early projects were new-technology oriented rather than problem-oriented. Lam said that successful digital infrastructure projects answer questions like, “What are you trying to solve?”; “What is the local context?”; and, “How can we improve it?”
Throughout the event, speakers suggested that combining the talents and resources of those in government with the private sector will ensure that smart cities are investing in infrastructure that will benefit all citizens.
Teresa Donnellan is an associate editor at SmartBrief.