Smart city insiders weigh in on 2014 smart city progress, 2015 trends

Wed, 2015-01-07 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

In years past we've highlighted smart cities predictions from various organizations that track trends. But this year we thought it would be interesting to see what our own smart cities insiders say about the progress they've witnessed in 2014, the challenges ahead and which trends they expect to bubble up in 2015.  

In this first of a two-part series, we'll highlight some decidedly mixed opinions from around the world on how the smart cities movement fared in 2014. The results of the informal survey are from city leaders, smart city vendors, academics and others who attended our Smart Cities Now forum in San Diego and/or are registered SCC members.

Characterizing 2014 smart city progress
Responses to how much progress we saw last year ran the gamut, from "slow" and "a long way to go" to "great."

Bipin Pradeep Kumar, GM of a telecom based in India, commented that most governments and cities have by now at least realized the necessity of becoming smart. "There is more maturity in thought and that could be the most significant progress for smart cities in 2014," he said, noting that for India, 2014 was the year the central government announced a slew of 100 smart cities.

Roy Adams, an independent urban planning consultant who lives in France, also sees progress. Or as he puts it a "growing awareness of the potential of digital technologies to enhance service delivery, cut costs and improve quality of life."

But while Uri Ben-Ari, managing partner of a smart city consulting division for a company in Israel, believes more cities did entered the arena and start various projects in 2014, "most of them
do not really invest in a comprehensive 'smart city' strategic program," he says.

Council Chairman Jesse Berst believes 2014 was the year that cities around the world realized that "smartness" is directly related to competitiveness. "Cities that want to attract the best jobs and best talent must become smart, or fall behind," Berst says.

Smart technologies that gained ground
Again, mixed responses to this question but interesting ones just the same. Bremerton, Washington Mayor Patty Lent cited body cameras for police officers, which she said "brought additional transparency to a troubling decade of force and sacrifice."

The city of Paramount, California's Public Safety Director Maria Meraz picked mobile apps and service monitoring. LED street lighting got the nod from Erwin Rezelman, President and CEO of Urban Integrated Solutions, part of the urban institute group which is a Council Associate Partner. Smart parking was also mentioned.

But if there was a winner, it was in the car space; many believe electric vehicles gained the most ground last year. Smart or connected vehicles were also cited.

What's blocking smart city development?
No surprise that financial challenges were mentioned by many. But in addition to coming up with the money to pay for smart technologies, respondents had a laundry list of reasons why smart cities are stalled. 

Shahriar Afshar, Development Services Manager for the Port of San Diego, listed several: inter-governmental, regulatory and political disconnects, silos and overlap (competition).

Still others mentioned:

  • Fear of change
  • Fear of failure
  • Ignorance
  • Social acceptance of new technologies
  • Lack of visionary leaders

David Leingang, Sales & Business Development Manager for a traffic solutions company, characterized the blocking issue this way: "Many cities/municipalities/agencies say they are innovative and willing to embrace new technologies, but they want someone to take the risk and do it first."

Still another point of view from Ben-Ari: "The biggest blocker is the mayors' lack of knowledge and understanding of smart city terminology, solutions and how to conduct it." Most of the mayors, he said, think of it as a technology program and assign it to CIOs. "Once they understand better that this kind of a project is a strategic and a vision-driven project, and once they understand that financing is available by PPP or BOT options, they will conduct it by planning first, technology second and therefore they will
succeed more."

Do you agree or disagree?  Use the Comment form below to weigh in. (Note: You must be logged in to comment. Not registered yet? Click here to join the Council for free.)  And be sure to check back Friday for part two which looks at smart cities trends anticipated this year and the smart city sectors our respondents believe resonate best with citizens.

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Liz Enbysk is the Council's Editorial Director. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.