Readiness Challenge Update: Insights from our 2018 winners

We’re just days from launching our 2019 Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge in North America — our third. We’d love to have you as part of our 2019 cohort. You can go here to add yourself to the interest list; just select Readiness Challenge as an interest of yours. We’ll send you a message when the application is ready.

But first, a little inspiration.

At Smart Cities Week in Washington, D.C., last week, we gathered our 2018 winners: Birmingham, AL; Cary, NC; Las Vegas, NV; Louisville, KY; Virginia and Puerto Rico to hear about their experiences. You can listen to the session. We’ve also collected a few key insights below. — Kevin Ebi

Smart cities isn’t a destination… it’s a journey
Grace Simrall, Chief of Civic Innovation and Technology for Louisville Metro Government, says she doesn’t particularly care for the moniker “smart cities.”

“It implies that there is an end destination where you can plant your flag and say, ‘yes we are now smart,’” she said. In reality, for truly smart cities, the goal is constantly moving, putting the city on a journey of continuous improvement.

“It will always be unattainable and out of reach.”

And innovation isn’t a matter of having one idea in a meeting either.

“Innovation is a discipline,” Simrall said. “It’s a craft. You take these proto-ideas and iterate on them. Out of that work emerges the real idea. It’s beautiful and magic when that happens, but it takes a lot of work.”

And everyone needs to be on your smart cities team
Several of our 2018 winners talked about the collaboration environment in their cities — and how collaboration is leading to stronger results.

“For us, what this really became was a philosophy,” said Josh Carpenter, Birmingham’s Director of Economic Development, “a philosophy of tackling some of our most persistent, pervasive social problems, but also bring together a group of partners.”

Birmingham’s workshop was a collaboration between the city, Alabama Power and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Meanwhile in Cary, Smart Cities Program Manager Terry Yates, said his region has had a smart cities ecosystem going for a few years, but the work through the workshop helped better align everyone. The city is a finalist for Amazon’s second headquarters.

“With the workshop it really brought everybody together to understand what we can accomplish as a region,” Yates said. “Not just Cary, but as a region, what are we trying to do? How can we benefit from all of the technologies? How can we integrate all of our systems?”

Think big, but start small
We often coach cities to have a solid vision of what they want to become, but not to wait until they can do it all at once. It’s usually better to make some improvement now than to potentially wait several years to take more substantial action.

Las Vegas provides a great example. Over the past year, it has run its autonomous passenger shuttle over an increasingly larger route, but following its Readiness Workshop this past summer, it’s about to take a major leap.

“As the result of the workshop and the cooperation we got from other agencies, we’re able to fast-track it,” said Don Jacobson, Las Vegas’s IT Business Partner for Innovation. “By the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2019, it should be completely built out and lit up and ready for the hundreds of thousands of conventioneers.”

And always look for opportunities
The Council is also providing Puerto Rico with a Readiness Workshop in December through a humanitarian grant. While recovery from a pair of hurricanes has been challenging, Carlos Mercedes of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, says the island is looking to build back stronger.

“It gave us an opportunity to see the island as a blank canvas, to bring in new ideas,” Mercedes said. “The crisis was what made it possible to bring everyone to the table.”