Local smart city planners want big government to butt out

With federal and regional governments jumping on the smart cities bandwagon, industry pundits want big government to butt out and let local players work their magic.

Morning Consult reported on a recent panel discussion at the Information and Innovation Foundation. During the discussion, many industry experts brought up the topic of government involvement in smart cities.

Specifically, panellists stressed the need to allow local autonomy when building out smart city strategies. And in order to do this, federal and regional governments were told repeatedly to simply get out of the way.

“There’s an understanding that if we are charging cities with being our leaders of innovation — both local governments themselves, as well as cities as sort of test grounds of innovation — then we need to empower cities to do that,” said Christy McFarland from the National League of Cities. “And there are many constraints, particularly on local governments, to have them facilitate additional innovation in the economy.”

The panel included representatives from Dell, the World Bank and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And despite the presence of big government, the recurring message from the discussion was that local governments needed less interference and more resources to grow smart cities from the ground up.

One way that smart city advocates saw this bottom-up strategy playing out is through the development of direct partnerships between local governments and their tech startup communities.

Do smart city efforts need to be local?

McFarland cited San Francisco as an example, where the city recruited a startup to create a platform to improve traveler navigation of its international airport.

Such public-private partnerships are key to developing data-driven smart cities of the future, according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Michael Hendrix. He says that without effective collaboration between local governments and the city’s technology firms, smart cities will never reach their full potential.

“You can have all the capital and talent and research capacity in the world and yet still not generate sustained innovation and start-up activity — or at least, not as much as you otherwise could,” he said.

The topic of local government empowerment comes as concerns mount that many smart city initiatives are focusing on solving peripheral urban problems, with few big projects tackling core city issues.

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