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Should billions be invested for smarter US cities?

The US federal government should bust out the checkbook and invest billions in making its cities smarter, says the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in a new report.  advising the federal government to invest billions of dollars in smart city technology.

The report, entitled “Technology and the Future of Cities,” outlines the current state of smart city technology infrastructure in the US and describes opportunities for economic growth. PCAST also recommends the best steps the federal government should take to efficiently improve the lives of its citizens through harnessing data collected by the Internet of Things (IoT).

Around the globe, smart city technology is poised to provide citizens services ranging from traffic management to a better coordination of health information. Countries in Europe and Asia have already funded widescale smart city initiatives, and there’s the feeling that most of the US is being left behind

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Smart city billions already sought by Obama administration

Support for smart cities is nothing new from the Obama administration. Last September, it announced a plan to invest $160 million on research and local infrastructure. In this new report, PCAST urges the federal government to scale up this effort for a “more integrated approach to supporting new technologies.”

To do this, the report recommends that the administration seek legislation for an initial $10 billion appropriation from the Treasury Department, allowing for the financing of an eventual $100 billion in local infrastructure development and retrofitting projects.

But the report’s primary recommendation is for the Secretary of the Department of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, to launch the “Cities Innovation Technology Investment Initiative.” This initiative will require open collaboration between the Departments of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, and Transportation, along with the local agencies needed to organize these efforts.

PCAST also advises the administration to follow the Department of Transportation’s “Smart Cities Challenge” model. The report asserts that the Commerce Department should “fund five districts with funding in the range of $30-40 million each, from existing sources in its constituent agencies and with at least two of the districts in low-income communities.”

Despite its scope, the report has received some criticism from smart city experts. Chair of the Smart Cities Council, Jesse Berst, supports the effort but isn’t a fan of its suggestion of neighborhood-by-neighborhood implementation. “But even these smaller-scale projects must be driven by a citywide vision,” Berst advises. “Otherwise, you’ll end up with disjointed, less connected neighborhoods.”

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