Cities: Here's what your smart cities competition is up to

Thu, 2018-05-03 10:38 -- Kevin Ebi

We often describe the concept of smart cities as race, not merely a trend. That’s because cities that make the investment to become more livable, workable and sustainable have a competitive advantage over cities that lag behind.

Want to see what your competition is up to? Johnson Controls, a Council Lead Partner, has completed its study of smart cities. Below, we summarize some of the key findings, from priority projects to biggest barriers.

In particular, there are two things worth noting. You’ll see that most are making a serious commitment to smart cities principles. But you’ll also see they aren’t very far along in their journey. If you’re just starting out, you have time to catch up — if you hurry. — Kevin Ebi

Does your city have a special office to drive smart cities initiatives? Nearly half the cities responding to Johnson Controls’ Smart Cities Indicators Survey do.

But despite such a commitment, most cities are at a very early stage of implementation. While 49% have a Smart Cities Program Office, 70% still haven’t published or implemented a smart cities strategy or program.

Where are cities with their efforts?
North American cities are typically much further along than cities elsewhere. Some 22% of cities in the U.S. and Canada say they’re already implementing a strategic program. Just 7% of cities worldwide are to that point.

Most are working on their plan, although 10% of cities worldwide say they don’t have any smart cities initiatives in the works or under their belts. About the same number say they’re working on an ad hoc basis.

What’s holding cities back?
There are three common barriers: lack of funding, concerns about security, and fear of making a mistake — though there are some regional differences.

Cities in the U.S. and Canada are more than twice as concerned about security as cities elsewhere. Meanwhile, a lack of leadership is a substantially bigger problem outside North America. Just 2% of American and Canadian respondents cited poor leadership as their top concern; 12% of cities worldwide did.

More universally, cities worldwide said they wished it was easier to engage the private sector and that smart cities standards were more fully developed.

Where do cities find the money?
When it comes to funding, a majority of cities worldwide are relying on state or federal funding, although that’s less prominent in the U.S. and Canada. Worldwide, 57% of cities rely on funding from higher levels of government; just 35% of U.S. and Canadian cities do. Public-private partnerships are the next-largest source, driving just over a third of worldwide projects (and slightly more than that in North America).

Utilities may be an under-utilized source of help in the U.S. and Canada. About 13% of cities worldwide say their utilities help pay for projects, six times the number of American and Canadian cites that say their utilities pitch in.

What motivates cities to become smarter?
Worldwide, cities believe that becoming smarter is good for the economy: 53% of cities cite economic development as a significant influence on their efforts. The environment is a close second. Environmental issues, particularly air quality, and sustainability were a significant factor for just under half of cities.

But public safety and a modern communications infrastructure are even more significant influencers for cities in North America. About two-thirds of American and Canadian cities named those as key factors. That’s about double the number of cities in the region that reported economic development as a motivating factor.

What projects are in the works?
When it comes to implemented projects, the Johnson Controls study finds a substantial difference between cities in North America and the rest of the world. Overall, American and Canadian cities have simply done more. But there is also a notable difference in the projects they’re interested in.

Smart street lights are the most common implemented smart cities technology in the U.S. and Canada. Cities appear to be connecting their street lights at the same time they’re installing energy-efficient LEDs. Air quality monitoring is another key initiative. Smart parking may be coming next; it is the most piloted technology.

Elsewhere, cities are focusing on health care and waste collection. Tele-health and social care, as well as smart waste collection lead the global list of implemented projects. Pilots focus on better use of natural resources; monitoring the energy usage in commercial buildings and smart water meters are the most common pilots.