Smart City Progress Report: North America

Mon, 2013-03-25 14:52 -- Liz Enbysk


By Eric Woods 
Navigant Research

The smart city label may be less common in North America than in Europe and Asia, but North American cities are looking to technology to improve the quality of public services and boost local economies. U.S and Canadian cities are also matching their counterparts around the world in setting ambitious sustainability targets. 

Innovation in North American cities

There are several areas where North American cities are driving technology innovation:

  • Leveraging smart grid investments– The investment being made in smart meters and smart grids in North America should provide an excellent underpinning for smart city programs.  One example is San Diego Smart City, which is based on a collaboration between San Diego Gas & Electric, the city council and other local stakeholders   
  • Upgrading the water infrastructure - The rising demand for water in expanding cities and the need to upgrade the water infrastructure is driving U.S. cities to be leading adopters of smart water technologies.  Dubuque, Idaho, for example, has put water management at the heart of its smart city program.
  • Looking anew at transportation: Several U.S. cities are vying to become centers of electric vehicle innovation, through various programs to improve charging facilities and promote EV adoption. The U.S. is also home to two of the largest smart parking trials in the world, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. These projects are using sensors technologies, real-time data analysis and dynamic pricing to reduce congestion and boost revenue collection.
  • Renewing city government - The United States and Canada have been long-standing leaders in e-government. This continues today in the government use of data analytics, cloud computing and the drive to open up public sector data.  New York and Chicago, among others, are exploring how they can transform city operations through the better use of data. 

From pilots to citywide deployment

While there is no shortage of innovation across North American cities, there is room for more joined-up thinking about how these diverse projects can come together as part of a broader city vision. This is starting to happen in cities like San Diego and Dubuque. 

Stimulus funding has provided important seed money for city innovation, not only for smart grid initiatives, but also for projects as diverse as smart street lighting and new parking systems.  A critical challenge for U.S. cities over the next few years is to ensure that stimulus or supplier-funded pilot programs develop into large-scale deployments. Cities themselves have few available funds for investment in innovative technologies, so finding the right public-private partnerships to fund further innovation will be the biggest challenge of all.

Eric Woods is a research director at Navigant Research, a part of Navigant Consulting, Inc.

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