The secret to smart cities success: start with a roadmap

Tue, 2013-04-30 14:30 -- Jesse Berst

This article contains an important reminder. If we continue to build smart city initiatives as one-off, piecemeal, standalone projects, we'll end up with "a multitude of smart islands in a dumb city." If that happens, "the nirvana of a total city infrastructure that optimises resources will remain elusive."

Realistically, cities must start small. No one has the resources to redo an entire metropolitan area. But we can have the best of both worlds as long as we are willing to do a bit of planning. The key is to start with an overall roadmap, one that specifies an interoperable enterprise architecture. That way we can build small, individual projects with the assurance that – when the time is right – they will plug together seamlessly. Yes, we should start small. But only after we think big. -- Jesse Berst


No one should be expected to take on the challenge of creating a smart city with every piece magically in place all at once.

But as Tristan Wilkinson, founder of Digital Citizens, points out in a Res Publica piece: We also shouldn't expect a scattering of individual smart but unconnected projects to be anything more than "a multitude of smart islands in a dumb city."

There is a very sensible approach that avoids the consequences of both of those misguided and unrealistic scenarios.

He points out that many global technology companies are sinking money into the smart city concept, and that is all to the good and should certainly be encouraged. But while starting small is the reasonable approach, it should not be taken to mean a collection of individual smart projects in that "dumb city" he refers to.

How to avoid that outcome? Wilkinson says it will take work but what is needed is a "sustained effort to develop business models that work across organisations that have never collaborated before, let alone had a formal relationship."

Political leadership also is needed. Policy makers should take the responsibility for establishing priorities and creating an overall, long-range plan over the scope and duration of the individual initiatives to ensure an integrated, interoperable and interconnected smart city. In other words, a framework that ensures all of those individual projects work together for a truly smart city.

As Wilkinson says, a smart city isn't about a bunch of smart city projects. It's about a series of planned small steps that "don't allow proprietary solutions to distract and divert resources."

As he concludes: "If we want to make a smart city a reality, then we are first going to need some smart thinking on how we can make this possible."