The origins of the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” have been debated, but the message is clear: Everyone, as a member of a community, must play a part to nurture a child to a point where he or she is self-sufficient and is a productive member of society.
As I've been interacting with city leaders, ecosystem partners who have deep application expertise, developers and the public, something also has become glaringly clear to me: It takes a village to raise a smart city.
In order to create an interconnected community, we ourselves need to interconnect face to face and build relationships that help grow trust so innovation can thrive.
First, we need to think like villagers — where it’s mutually beneficial to put the greater good ahead of individual priorities. When we think like villagers, we can become a village. And when we become a village, then we will be better equipped to raise a smart city.
Smart cities (or intelligent cities) are in their infancy. It will take a village, and in some cases villages, to realize success. Why the need for more than one village? As each smart city matures, we need to share best practices — life lessons — with younger sister cities seeking to grow smart. Every day groups like Smart Cities Council, EnvisionAmerica, World Smart City Forum, 100 Resilient Cities, IEEE Smart Cities,ANSI Network on Smart and Sustainable Cities and Smart Grid Northwest, to name just a few, work to share information that helps cities understand best practices.
An Intangible Child with Tangible Achievements
Granted, a city may not seem to live and breathe and achieve milestones like a toddler taking her first steps or a son or daughter graduating high school -- but take another look. LED fixtures, buildings, buses and people with their mobile devices create an enormous amount of data that if captured, can be used to birth a smart city. When a city is able to capture the data through a digital infrastructure and make it available to startups, developers and an ecosystem of partners, the value becomes very tangible. Developers at a recent hackathon I attended, in only a couple days of using simulated data, created life-improving and life-saving applications — from helping citizens find available parking spots to an app that alerts 911 when a defibrillator is put into use and provides first responders live video from the scene for greater situational awareness.
As with raising a child, there will be challenges. I am a father of five and I can testify to challenges and how some of the tenets to raising a child apply to a smart city: patience, understanding, accountability and communication. A sense of humor along the way doesn't hurt either.
A recent white paper that highlights strategies city leaders can take to realize their vision of a smart city features a section that deals with community engagement. Establishing committees that include not just corporate and tech leaders but also community and issue advocates can increase community awareness, participation and citywide support. And the importance of bringing people together via events has never been more effective.
City leaders should consider hosting events to bring people together — events that are memorable, relatable and shareable — whether they are brainstorming workshops, hackathons, symposiums or town halls. The key is to bring people together and share ideas, to capture the ideas, associate the ideas and move them into action based on an overall vision set by mayors and city leadership.
If we get everyone together, collaborating and sharing, these ideas will get better, smarter and more innovative. Ultimately, this is how we get buy-in from every "villager" on how to nurture the smart-city child.