10 tenets of a smart city

10 tenets enable tomorrow’s thriving cities, writes Russ Vanos, VP of sales and marketing for global software, services and smart cities, Itron.
Published: Mon 20 Jun 2016

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities, demonstrating a trend of ever ^pexpanding urban centers. This growth, coupled with the need to better manage vital resources, is driving the connected smart city.

The demand for city services puts a particular strain on energy and water, especially considering the incredible amount of energy used to treat and pump water and the huge amount of water it takes to generate power. Addressing this energy and water nexus will be key to cities’ prosperity and sustainability, and managing their future will require more creative thinking than ever. Technology and citizen engagement will play an important role in the responsible management of energy and water.

At the core of every smart city are 10 tenets that enable tomorrow’s thriving cities.

1. Empower sustainability

A smart city is a sustainable city. From providing incentives to reduce energy, water and carbon footprints to integrating renewable energy, empowering citizens to be environmental stewards through programs and technologies helps create a more resourceful city culture.

Citizen engagement is key to this. With smart technologies, citizens can access detailed information about their energy and water usage so they can make informed decisions about how much energy and water they use in order to reduce waste and save money. With rebate programs and other incentives, citizens are given even more reason to conserve resources. Additionally, smart technologies make it possible to integrate renewable energies onto the electric grid so citizens can become their own producers of energy. All of these programs and more help cities reach their sustainability goals, which is core to being a smart, prosperous city.

2. Drive economic growth

Cities need a competitive edge to secure new economic investments, retain skilled workers and attract entrepreneurs and companies. Businesses want to be located in a city where it is easy and advantageous to do business. Smart city initiatives give a city that competitive edge by driving city-wide efficiencies and subsequently lowering the cost for companies to do business, laying the groundwork for economic growth. According to IDC, through 2018, 90% of smart city investment will support socioeconomic initiatives to reduce economic divides, grow domestic industries and attract skilled workers1.

3. Deliver safe and reliable resources

Energy and water resources are critical to a city’s prosperity and sustainability. In many cities in the US today, the critical infrastructure, such as electric grids and water distribution systems, are over a hundred years old and are in need of modernization to support today’s economy and lifestyle. As city populations grow, the demand for city services only increases, putting a particular strain on energy and water. A smart city ensures the safe and reliable delivery of energy and water resources through modernized infrastructure, leak detection and sensing technologies.

With modernized utility infrastructure, smart cities can better align generation and supply with demand. They can improve service delivery reliability and support clean energy sources to conserve and manage energy and water in a responsible manner. Smart cities eliminate waste and reduce water losses with leak detection technology, protecting precious water resources. With reliable access to energy and water, cities can thrive.

4. Adopt industry best practices

Central to any smart city is collaboration. A smart city learns from industry leaders, smart city experts and visionaries, and adopts best practices to accelerate smart city initiatives. While it is important for cities that are just beginning their smart city journey to develop a strong vision and roadmap, they can start small and build on their successes. They can learn from others who have pioneered the smart cities path to help them realize the benefits from this low hanging fruit.

A great example of this is Envision America, which is helping America’s cities become smarter. Envision America is a nationwide nonprofit established to share best practices and challenge America’s cities to utilize smarter resource conservation technology, build a cross-sector collaborative model and commit to developing innovation for the improved quality of life for citizens.

In addition, groups like the Smart Cities Council help accelerate smart cities through advocacy and action.

5. Break down silos

A truly smart city breaks down silos and shares information not only within its own organization, but outside its walls with various external stakeholders. A smart city initiative will inevitably involve and impact multiple departments across a city. As such, it’s important to create consistent communication regarding smart city plans organization-wide and get buy-in and support from senior management from start to finish. Having that consistency and top level support will reinforce the importance of the initiative. It will also assist all departments in ensuring a smooth and successful transition to a smart city.

Outside of departmental walls, convening city leaders, utilities, universities, businesses, technology partners and citizens is essential to smart city success. Taking a holistic and integrated approach to engaging these disparate groups helps build a network of projects that all tie back to the foundational goal of enhancing livability, workability and sustainability. By engaging all stakeholders, a smart city can ensure it is making the most of all of its resources: human, financial, technology and natural resources.

6. Prioritize open-standards network infrastructure

The evolution of a smart city starts with a smart grid, which can be used to drive efficiencies. A single multi-service/multipurpose network that features open standards creates the foundation for a smart city. With this network, data can be shared, creating more efficient utility operations and new possibilities for cities. With sensors and intelligence embedded in every device, the network provides the backbone for all city connections.

Moving from a smart grid to a smart city will create new opportunities for efficiencies, conservation and economic development. Open standards are essential to helping a city become more effective in delivering services to its citizens, as they provide the mechanism for two-way communications, as well as a source of real-time data for reducing energy and water waste.

7. Create an open pathway for innovation

Committing to an open network will allow for interoperability and innovation. With an open network comes open development processes that inspire new technologies and applications that haven’t been imagined yet, creating numerous possibilities for smart cities. A smart city encourages open collaboration and innovation to create various smart city applications.

One such example is the Itron Riva™ Developers Community, which invites developers to participate in innovation and create apps for smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT). Leveraging the power of many, the Developers Community accelerates innovation to create an ecosystem of IoT apps for industries, including energy and water management, building energy management, smart street lighting and solar monitoring.

8. Leverage the power of data

Data is instrumental to the success of a smart city, whether applying transportation management, balancing the energy and water nexus, lighting controls, building efficiencies, safety measures or other applications. Data sharing and analytics are the gateway to getting greater value out of smart technology and enhancing a city to be more sustainable, resilient and livable.

Smart devices, including sensors and smart meters, provide real-time data that can be leveraged to create efficiencies, reduce waste and empower citizens. With analytics, that real-time data can be turned into insights that a smart city can share across city departments. Data puts the ‘smart’ in smart cities.

9. Engage participation

A successful smart city creates the foundation to engage, inform and empower its citizens. Using a mobile app creates greater awareness and action among citizens to reduce energy, save water, eliminate waste and improve air quality. Not only can citizens use an app to make decisions about their own impact on energy, water and waste, they can also use it as a real-time reporting tool to communicate issues, such a pothole or graffiti, to the city for quick action. Mobile technology is yet another way that cities can connect with citizens and businesses to improve livability, workability and sustainability.

10. Lean on partners and experts

The pathway to developing and implementing a smart city is far bigger and more complex than any one company or entity. Managed services can help a city more quickly realize smart city benefits by relying on industry experts to help generate true business outcomes, allowing the city to do what it does best and focus on its core services to citizens.

Creating the Smart City

Best practices, communication, an open network, real-time data and more, these 10 tenets are the essential building blocks for a smart city. A smart city, through collaboration and innovation, provides reliable access to energy and water, engages citizens in new ways, creates economic opportunities and enables communities to thrive. A smart city is livable, workable and sustainable. And it is achievable with the right elements in place. 

1. IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Smart City 2016 Predictions, Nov 2015

This article first appeared in Meteringt & Smart Energy International, Issue 1 2016