From Connected Smart City to Smart Region

The promise of remote sensors, always-on connections and artificial intelligence-powered decision-making promises to create what might be called the smart city on the hill. Getting to that utopia will not be easy, as city policy makers must address many questions on things such as business models, standards, technology obsolescence and citizen privacy. The biggest challenge may be what occurs at a city’s border, as interoperability between jurisdictions will be important to maximize the value of the connected and smart city, as pointed out in the above interview with Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s David Witkowski.

Speaking at Joint Venture’s 2017 State of the Valley Conference (SOV2017), Witkowski provides an overview of the Joint Venture’s newly formed Smart Region Initiative.  Witkowski is the Executive Director of this venture and he explains how Joint Venture will facilitate conversations between political jurisdictions to prevent potential silos that have been seen with other technologies. Their efforts promise to go beyond Silicon Valley, as they have joined the Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC) leadership team, as part of the Public Wi-Fi SuperCluster.

As an example of the poor interoperability that can occur from disparate systems, he cites the many public transit networks that serve the greater Silicon Valley. The resulting friction from something seemingly as simple as not being able to pay once and easily transfer between system causes lower ridership and frustration among riders.

And this idea that the smart city is about making things easier for citizens to interact with government was a recurring theme among the panelists at SOV2017. It is more than just open data, as it is about making the data available in a curated form or one that is usable by humans or other applications through APIs.

At the same time, as data passes between entities, privacy, anonymity and security become a huge concern. Witkowski points to an Electronic Frontier Foundation letter that suggests to municipalities that privacy needs to be part of the design of connected cities and, by extension, smart regions.

It also points to the importance of community outreach during the definition stage, before the design and build stages.  As Jan Whittington, Associate Professor of Urban Infrastructure Lab & Tech Policy of the University of Washington said on Witkowski’s panel, “If you are trying to improve public services, people need to see the nature of the improvement.”

And one of the benefits might be an erasure of the divisions that separate the governed from the governing. What SOV2017 keynote speaker and Harvard’s Stephen Goldsmith called distributed governance; one where the technology improves transparency, speeds responsiveness and where the crowd can contribute to the outcome.