Smart cities rally smart partners (and San Francisco shows how it's done)

Wed, 2014-01-22 06:07 -- Liz Enbysk

With the encouragement of Mayor Ed Lee, nonprofit San Francisco Citizens for Technology and Innovation -- or sf.citi – is helping organize leaders within the city's tech industry "to share best practices and marshal the resources and talent of the tech sector to help address common challenges in housing, education, jobs and affordability facing San Franciscans."

In a press release late last month, sf.citi announced creation of three new committees; one will tackle affordable housing, another will focus on education and building a local jobs pipeline and a third will work on philanthropy, encouraging tech companies to establish foundations and promote volunteerism among employees.

"More than ever, the industry as a whole is ready to roll up its sleeves and work together on issues impacting all San Franciscans and to make sure our City’s economic success reaches all of our residents and neighborhoods," stated sf.citi Chairman Ron Conway.

It's one example of the kind of creative solutions advocated in the Smart Cities Readiness Guide – a conceptual roadmap to help cities address growth strategies using smart technologies.

As the Guide underscores, implementing smart technologies in an era when so many cities are budget-strapped can be a daunting financial challenge. But it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable one if cities get creative like San Francisco has.

Tackling tough problems by leveraging brainpower from local industry is just one example of a public-private partnership. In some cases costs can be reduced by partnering with private sector providers who have already deployed networks and services. Another example is working with private industry to help finance the kind of smart infrastructure improvements that benefit both the business community but also city residents.

In one of the numerous smart city success stories highlighted in the Guide you can read about the public-private partnership that helped the city of South Bend, Indiana solve a serious infrastructure challenge – as in wastewater spilling into the St. Joseph River and welling up in basements. The city was looking at a $120 million fix.

But instead, South Bend entered into a public-private partnership with Notre Dame University, a local technology company and Council Lead Partner IBM to come up with a new way to monitor and control its wastewater collection system.

The technology and research that came out of the partnership made it possible for South Bend to automate what had been manual and labor-intensive data collection – and at a more budget-friendly $6 million, a fraction of the cost of the original estimate.

In an era when so many municipal budgets are already strained, cities need to go beyond the traditional mechanisms and explore the widest possible range of funding options to make their cities more livable, workable and sustainable. Read more ways to do that by downloading a copy of the Readiness Guide (one-time free registration required).