Jan 13th 2017 | Posted in Mary Scott Nabers' Insights by Mary Scott Nabers

From autonomous vehicles to renewable energy sources, U.S. cities are in flux. In fact, cities are changing so quickly, it would no doubt shock city leaders of yesteryear.

Smart City technology is creating new municipal environments. New strategies are in place and innovative services and solutions have emerged. The bottom line? Cities will never again be the same.

Doubtful that municipal change is rampant? Just Google the keywords “smart cities” and count the dozens of beautiful new web sites. Smart City innovation is a trillion dollar trend that is sweeping the country and cities of all sizes have been impacted.

A recent study from the National League of Cities (NLC) addresses new trends in a report that was produced with the hope of helping public officials share information. The study discusses what’s working well and what is outdated. It recommends that city leaders be bold and visionary and look for collaborative partners in the private sector, on university campuses and in the nonprofit world.

Successful initiatives in several U.S. cities are outlined in the report.  Each focuses on the use of technology and almost all involve the collection of data. Data analytics is the new “hot” trend and cities are using data to solve municipal challenges.

In Texas, many believe the city of San Antonio has set the bar for the rest of the state regarding smart city development. The Alamo City set aside almost $8 million in its 2017 budget for nine Smart City innovation projects. Most of the projects focus on transportation, environmental sustainability and efforts to ensure high-quality digital service. Every initiative was designed to help the city prepare for the massive population growth that has been projected between now and 2040. As shocking as it may sound, at least 1 million more citizens are expected to reside in San Antonio over the next couple of decades.

Two other major cities in Texas – Austin and Dallas – are also heavily entrenched and fully committed to Smart City innovation. Last year, the city of Austin was named one of seven finalists in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. The city had hoped to capture grant funds to launch various types of transportation projects. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Hoping to bring smart city initiatives to Dallas, a consortium that includes private-sector vendors, organizations, businesses and city officials is making impressive plans. The group, now called the Dallas Innovation Alliance, is a public-private partnership whose goal is to address challenges facing the city such as mobility, infrastructure and citizen engagement.

A significant portion of the NLC report focuses on the importance and advantages of collaborative partnerships. Some of the obvious benefits are outlined, including access to funding and expertise not otherwise available. Some of the not-so-obvious benefits are also outlined.

These advantages would include the benefit of shifting or sharing risk on large, major public projects. That is appealing to public officials. And, the report makes note of the fact that shifts in political power are always frightening to city executives. Because of that, it suggests that public-private partnerships can provide support and a buffer for stakeholders who are not elected officials. Private capital, which comes with most private-sector partners, is also a very attractive benefit when cities are facing budget deficits.

Smart City innovation will roll out even more quickly in the coming year. Because of that, it’s the perfect time for innovative and visionary thinkers to step forward and move into leadership roles. Population growth, budget shortfalls, sustainability challenges and technology demands from citizens – those problems will only escalate.  Collaboration, innovation and visionary partnerships – that’s the country’s greatest hope for making cities smart…and even smarter in the years to come.

Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.