What is a Smart City?

By Rachel Eckert, SLED consultant

Most of us who have been in and around the state, local and education space (SLED) have seen the term “smart city” more times than we can count. A simple search for “what is a smart city” returns dozens of examples, definitions and solution sheets that explain specific implementations being done under the heading of “smart city.” In a nutshell, a smart city is one that aims to improve the delivery of services to its citizens using technology.

That’s a simple definition and easy enough to understand, but, how does a city become smart? What technologies do they use to be smart? How does a vendor approach a city to make it smarter? And when you add in the typical SLED wrinkle with each city being its own fiefdom, finding a common definition and a strategy to target a smart city is understandably difficult.

Let’s dive into that definition a bit deeper. Cities provide all sorts of services to their citizens including public safety, transportation, health care and more. Each year, cities see their populations grow, thus increasing the number of people to whom they must now provide those public safety, transportation or health care services. The problem is that most cities aren’t seeing the same increase in budgets, leaving them with taxed resources and an ever-growing mission.

This is where technology comes in — technology you can provide. Technology has a way of stretching resources and creating efficiencies. So, for cities to deliver the same quality and level of services without corresponding increases in budget, they’ll be looking to the vendor community for advice on the best technologies to make themselves smarter. Cities will be asking you how the technology can help them connect, collect, analyze and deliver more services faster.

One of the more common implementations is adding nodes and sensors to street or traffic lights that collect traffic or environmental data. Cities can analyze traffic data and deliver alerts to citizens through mobile apps on the best route to avoid traffic. Cities are also leveraging traffic and environmental data in their planning strategies. Another area where cities commonly implement smart city initiatives is through citywide Wi-Fi. This technology not only enables citizens to connect any time across the entire city, but also provides the necessary connectivity to deploy cameras, gunshot detection devices or parking kiosks that collect and detect public safety information for law enforcement to analyze — and deliver improved safety services to citizens.

At the end of the day, a smart city is focused on meeting or even exceeding the needs of the citizens. Technology the vendor community provides is one mechanism that helps cities deliver smarter, faster more efficient services. As you approach the smart cities space, the key message is to remember the citizen and the services the city is looking to improve.

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