Collaboration Drives Innovation: Developing a Smart Region Mentality

Collaboration Drives Innovation: Developing a Smart Region Mentality

By Chris Camacho, President & CEO, Greater Phoenix Economic Council

Chris Camacho, President & CEO, Greater Phoenix Economic Council

The Smart Cities Connect Conference in Kansas City brought together leaders from around the country to discuss smart city practices and the do’s and don’ts. There are many different perspectives about what makes a city “smart”. Many in attendance discussed implementation best practices and the importance of collaborative communities. The one thing that stood out most was the conversation around the mentality of smart cities. This mentality requires that the business and local leadership responsible for modern infrastructure and city planning be ready, willing and able to evolve. As the population shifts and the younger, tech savvy generations get older, they have the expectation that their communities be as connected as the rest of their lives. This shifting resident expectation indicates why the mentality of a smart city is critical and there is no way to meet this expectation without intentional planning and leadership.

"Smart city collaborations typically require all groups inclusive of the connected to the historically disenfranchised to be embraced in this change"

Preparing to meet the expectations of these residents requires modern infrastructure and progressive city planning. As opportunities to evolve arise, we need to intentionally pause and consider our options before implementing the same process and procedure that was used in the past. From intelligent transportation, to security and safety, to health and well-being, access, equity and utilities–no matter where you look, there’s an opportunity for evolution and innovation. This evolution must keep citizens and businesses at the heart of all initiatives, because cities ultimately become smarter, more efficient, and more responsive for the sake of the community and its associated economic success. As business and community leaders, we must continually look for ways to enhance the quality of life and provide citizens with a place where their family can thrive and feel safe.

Taking the smart city mentality and transitioning it to the implementation phase takes intentionality, creativity, grit and most importantly—collaboration. Smart city collaborations typically require all groups inclusive of the connected to the historically disenfranchised to be embraced in this change. For implementation to last, programs must add value to the local quality of life for citizens and improve their health and well-being. When residents see that these smart initiatives make their environment better and create efficiencies for city operations, they’ll understand and appreciate the advancements and become advocates for future innovation.

An advantage of transforming into a smart city is the ability to use communication and sensor technology to improve infrastructure and reduce long-term maintenance costs. Driven by a singular problem, smart city technology has the potential to inform and address multiple challenges at once. For example, when conducting a smart transportation pilot project, the primary goal might be to improve the movement of vehicles, but additional benefits could include reducing emissions and improving air quality. By continually refining their mentality, smart cities can implement smart transportation solutions that not only reduce traffic but also increase access to opportunity and enhance citizen well-being through achieving a higher quality of life for all residents.

Successful smart city implementation is built on the backbone of collaboration. These shared goals are ambitious and cities will need to work with their neighboring counterparts to achieve them. By developing measures of success and a common narrative around the problems, they’ll find greater collective success that betters the regional economy and quality of life. Without the collaboration of urban planners, community leaders and businesses, some initiatives may not reach full implementation and even reduce citizen trust. By setting clear and measurable objectives and maintaining transparency with residents you’re able to maintain open and clear dialogue.

While technology is at the core of many smart city initiatives, another key take away from the Smart City Connect conference is that technology isn’t always the solution and it isn’t always the issue, either. Dropping the best and smartest technology into a broken system will not produce the desired outcomes. Technology also has significant upkeep costs that are easily sidelined by tight budgets. To avoid these pitfalls there needs to be a smart system built on collaboration. This system will most likely require cross departmental partnerships that extend beyond city staff because the challenges we face today are complex. Whether it’s new internal partnerships within a city or region or externally with new private partners, it requires getting comfortable with change and leaning into the struggles that go hand-in-hand with being innovative. Having one smart transportation solution in a city and implementing a completely different one in an adjacent city will ultimately have adverse impacts on regional success and residents who live in an area could face inconsistencies resulting in a reduced quality of life.

Talking about the importance of being a smart city, smart region or even a smart country is a topic that’s creating a lot of interest, but years from now it will just be the way successful and flourishing cities operate. This requires us to make a decision: evolve or be left behind. Waiting to make this decision or avoiding the challenges that come from investing in smart solutions is choosing to fall behind.

By 2020, spending on smart city initiatives worldwide is expected to grow to $34.35 billion, an increase from $14.85 billion in 2015. Smart solutions are transforming the way cities address nearly every operation. In Greater Phoenix, cities and towns are coming together to change the way we live for the better and implementing solutions that improve the regional quality of life. As each smart solution is brought to the forefront, we know we’re improving citizen lives by implementing smart innovations that prepare our region for success for many generations to come.

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