Around two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. Given this expected explosion in urban growth, municipalities around the world are deploying emerging technologies to transform the future of cities. From managing the flow of traffic to fighting climate change, emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and autonomous vehicles (AV) are making cities smarter, efficient, resilient, and safer. An Intel report found that smart cities can give back 125 hours a year to every person by reducing delays and making cities more efficient. 

Despite the utopian vision of smart cities, the use of emerging technologies presents both promise and peril for cities. Since smart city applications rely on vast troves of data, even the most seemingly innocuous technologies such as sensors can pose a serious privacy and security threat to cities and their residents. Moreover, opponents of smart city applications often criticize governments and city leaders for their lack of technical expertise and an absence of policy safeguards to mitigate the negative and unintended consequences of emerging technologies. 

Too often smart cities projects are set up for failure due to bad decision-making and indecision as cities try to balance the need to use technology to support public safety and ensure individual privacy and security. The failure of many recent smart city projects classically illustrates where a relentless vision of a tech-utopia, with complete disregard to policy considerations, can lead to an eventual failure of a smart city project. The guidebooks and policies that exist are great, but often don’t reach their intended audience or motivate them correctly with accessible language. Moreover, they fail to draw attention to important policy considerations such as public trust & safety, community engagement, and equity that are critical for the success and sustainability of a smart city project.

US Ignite believes that smart city devices and network advancements can support residents in public spaces (e.g., through severe weather events, mass casualty events, bad traffic, health crises, lawful protests) without compromising their personally identifiable information (PII) or causing them to lose confidence in public places. US Ignite has launched a project to identify policy gaps in how cities and connected communities approach smart city projects and build tools to support informed decision making by municipal leaders. As such we can frame this problem as a scarcity model, where the vacuum of legal frameworks and lack of accessible policy tools highlight both a problem and an opportunity. To this end, US Ignite will develop a readable, procedural, and topical guidebook for community and municipal leaders to help make better decisions for better cities. While we believe that the guide will be a great resource for all cities and communities alike, it will be particularly geared towards cities and communities that are in the early stages of policy maturity, and technology adoption and integration. 

The guide will enhance decision making by providing a framework to think through the issues of (i) Data Governance; (ii) Cybersecurity; (iii) Privacy; (iv) Equity; and (v) Community Engagement; and will help to establish support and trust in smart city applications without losing public confidence.

We will be interviewing city leaders to understand specific barriers to decision making and pain points for cities. Additionally, we will also be interviewing subject matter experts to create a compendium of best practices that smart and connected communities can follow. As we develop this guide, we welcome feedback, ideas, and resources that can help make this guide more readable and actionable. Please reach out to Jigyasa Sharma, Smart Communities Associate at [email protected]