Smart cities reading list: 5 takes on city challenges (and ways to overcome them)

Wed, 2014-04-30 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

Medellin, Colombia

Scroll down to read about the transformation of two very different cities; a call for pairing smart policies with smart technologies; why more compact cities could help slow global warming; smarter approaches to food insecurity, and IT challenges in our schools.

Different approaches to city transformation: An interesting post by Council Advisor Boyd Cohen, who is also a Professor of Entrepreneurship, Sustainability & Smart Cities at the Universidad del Desarrollo in Santiago Chile, compares the transformation of Singapore and Medellin, Colombia (pictured above) – two very different cities that took different paths to  transformation. Writing on UBM's Future Cities site, Cohen used the comparison to reflect on why some cities transform themselves rapidly while others struggle to do so. As he explains: "The former Mayor of Medellín, Sergio Fajardo (2003-2007), embarked on a mission to 'Close the door to crime and open the door to opportunity.' While Singapore's transformation was largely top down and government-controlled, Medellín's was more organic, with a significant focus on bottom-up and citizen engagement." Cohen suggests that Medellin, once a haven for drug trafficking with one of the highest murder rates in the world, is today a role model for social inclusion that cities everywhere might want to consider.

Pairing smart policies with smart technologies: You'll find some interesting perspectives (and interesting feedback from readers) in an opinion piece by Adie Tomer and Rob Puentes recently posted on Wired. The Brookings Institute researchers are highlighting findings from a new report – Getting Smarter about Smart Cities -- developed by Brookings and ESADE Institute for Public Governance and Management, a Council Advisory Board member. In the Wired piece, Tomer and Puentes begin by suggesting "the technology-first approach has failed the city of the future" and make the case that as much time and energy should go into creating policy blueprints as is spent researching and marketing new technologies. After talking with municipal leaders around the world, Tomer and Puentes outline five steps they believe smart city policy innovators should take, from crafting an economic vision that includes a specific role for technology to smart city executives needing stronger networks and improved communications technologies. Cities looking for specific guidance on smart city policy considerations and approaches other cities have taken will find the Council's vendor-neutral Smart Cities Readiness Guide useful.

Advantages of more compact cities:  A new United Nations study suggests the explosive urban growth we'll see in coming decades provides a window of opportunity to utilize urban design to slow global warming. A Reuters story on the 2,000 page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report outlines a scenario of 460,000 square miles being added to cities and towns, mostly in Asia and Africa, between 2000 and 2030. "More compact city designs that cut commutes, insulation to save energy, better public transport, cycle lanes and pedestrian areas can all cut emissions, mainly from fossil fuels," Reuters environmental correspondent Alister Doyle explains. It's often more difficult to implement greener policies in cities already built. "If you live in the average North American city you are a long way from buying a loaf of bread or where you work and you have to use a car," noted Karen Seto, a Yale professor and one of the report authors. You can download the full report or a summary for policymakers here.

Smarter approaches to food security: The same U.N. report cited above also concluded that global warming will push food prices higher and trigger "hot spots of hunger" among the world's poorest populations, Huffington Post reported. Food insecurity is already at crisis levels in many parts of the world. For example, David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and a former UK foreign secretary, writes about the appalling situation in Yemen – the Arab world's poorest country -- where half the population doesn't know where their next meal is coming from and malnutrition is at staggering levels. More and more cities will need to find solutions to the growing water-energy-food nexus as urban populations swell, and urban agriculture is emerging as one potential solution. Examples include a Garden Factory now under construction in Neemrana, India that will manufacture vehicles, produce food and generate electricity using a variety of technologies. Another example: Park20l20 in Haarlemmermeer, the Netherlands, which a report in the UK Guardian describes as a mixed-use urban development that harvests clean renewable energy, absorbs and filters water, produces food and provides habitat for other living things.

IT challenges in our schools: At the Council we consider education a smart city responsibility even when schools aren't under the jurisdiction of city hall because they play such a critical role in improving the livability and workability of city residents. So we were interested in learnings from the second annual K-12 IT Leadership survey recently released by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). It  identifies trends, challenges and priorities faced by ed tech professionals. Though budget and resource limitations remain a key challenge for school CTOs, according to the survey, 34% of the respondents indicated their budgets had increased this year (compared to just 19% in last year's survey). The other two main challenges: changing the culture of teaching and breaking down district-wide barriers. CoSN notes that assessment readiness is a top priority for respondents and that mobile learning and wireless access have taken on new importance since the previous year's survey.

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