2021 looks good for smart cities in the US

This information provided by Smart Cities Council North America.
Fri, 2020-02-07 07:39 -- Philip Bane

2021 looks good for smart cities in the US 

IDC recently identified the US as one of the top smart city markets for 2020. This forecast is reinforced by the policy proposals of the 2020 US Presidential candidates. In fact, we found a strong focus on not only infrastructure; but also, smart cities and green and sustainable infrastructure. With proposals for broadband deployment, $1B smart city grants, green infrastructure and with three former mayors in the race, it looks like smart cities and smart infrastructure is on everyone's agenda with strong potential for action in 2021. Let's hope that the winner of this election can find a way to work with everyone else to make this happen!

 2016 and everyone was clueless about 'smart' 

In the 2016 Presidential election, the Council published a policy brief – Smart Infrastructure Unlocks Equity and Prosperity for Our Cities and Towns – outlining how smart infrastructure would create better paying jobs and usher in a new era of prosperity for all Americans. In the 2016 election, we never saw either candidate pick up the mantle of building 'smart cities' and 'smart' infrastructure.

The situation is very different in 2020 ...and there appears to be strong consensus among our leaders that we should use 'smart' to bring our cities, transportation and energy networks into the 21st Century.

2020 Presidential Candidate focus on infrastructure and cities.

President Trump announced at his state of the nation address on February 4 that 'infrastructure' was a key policy goal for 2020. He received a bi-partisan round of applause.  Our non-scientific study revealed that all the US Presidential candidates' stated policies have some focus on funding infrastructure and city projects. Some even mention policy guidance for critical infrastructure and data usage. Given the state of infrastructure in the US and cities' financial woes, federal programs that provide policy guidance (data sharing, privacy and cybersecurity) and funding will keep our economy strong and maintain job growth.

Our research - some plans detailed, other aspirational 

  • Executive versus legislative  - With three x-mayors (Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Sanders) among the candidates and former Vice President Biden, it does appear (except for Senator Sanders) that these former executive branch officials have a better understanding compared to the candidates with a legislative or private background about how to make infrastructure smart to deliver resiliency, sustainability and reduce the impact of carbon emissions. 
  • $1 Trillion - This seems to be the popular number now. Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Klobuchar and Mayor Buttigieg all state they will spend this amount on infrastructure. According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, the greatest recent expenditure for a year was just about $460B in 2010 and there has been a year over year decrease in infrastructure spending through 2019, with water taking the biggest reduction. Tom Steyer ups the ante to $2T for infrastructure funding, which may be more in line with what is needed according to the Brookings analysis.
  • Broadband - every candidate has a policy to further deploy broadband, especially in rural communities. In fact, President Trump's recent proposed 2020 budget focuses heavily on rural broadband roll-outs. 
  • Smart Cities Vice President Biden proposes a $1B competitive grant program for up to five cities, following the example of the US Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge from 2015. He was in the Obama administration when the DoT challenge was issued, so seems to appreciate how federal seed funding triggered private and local investments to accelerate projects.  The most detailed plan is from Mayor Bloomberg  (though VP Biden's plans are almost equally detailed.) At a speech at the US Mayor's Winter Conference last week, Mayor Bloomberg told 270 Mayors that we needed to create and use data more effectively in funding infrastructure. Mayor Bloomberg’s' Cities of Service initiative has granted cities over $350M to learn how to create and use data more effectively. So, there is some experience here that the country could use. Too bad we don't have national unity governments here in the US like they do in parliamentary systems!
  • Green and sustainable is a common policy objective for Democratic candidates. In fact, Senator Warren focuses heavily on labeling all her initiatives 'green.'  A review of Senator Klobuchar's policy statements show singular attention to the effect of climate change with a focus on changing energy policies (to include investments in renewable generation and energy efficiency) to reduce the impact of carbon emissions. Tom Steyer takes a similar approach to Senator Klobuchar but focuses on what he calls 'climate justice.' And while Senator Sander's policy statements also have a focus on climate change, his policy statements have relatively little detail. Andrew Yang's has even less (nothing in fact.) 

Why this matters 

These smart infrastructure investments incentivize innovation in the public and private sectors to future-proof our economy, boost exports and invigorate competitive advantage on the global stage. We often tell nation governments that we work with - 'make you cities smart and you can export those solutions to other cities globally.' 

As opposed to just infrastructure, 'smart' infrastructure creates better-paying jobs for American workers, When I was leading a public safety integrator, we had high paying jobs, averaging over $70,000 a year for high school educated installers - employees who had years of 'on-hand's experience understanding how to install, configure and monitor cameras and other sensors. These roles were similar to what we remember as the town auto-mechanic, people who had learned on the job and were well-regarded and well paid. 

Adding sensors, instrumentation, data collection and analysis to infrastructure projects can make these projects resilient (able to withstand the next natural disaster) and reduce the costs of maintenance, all while providing real-time information for management of the resources associated with the infrastructure (energy in buildings, traffic flow on bridges or highways, energy, public safety and communications with street lights.)

If you are interested in more information, see the 2016 policy brief and - go here. The Policy Brief was supported by Council Partners AT&T, Black & Veatch, Itron, Qualcomm Intelligent Solutions, Inc. and Sensus, and included specific examples of how smart infrastructure is already providing triple bottom line returns – social, financial and environmental benefits – in cities large and small in the U.S. and beyond.