Women Leaders Are Key Players Shaping Today’s Smart Cities

June 18, 2018 Alison Lake

Public thinking continues to evolve on the role local government and technology should play in making cities livable. In the last 20 years, cities of all sizes have rolled out innovations and programs designed to make life more efficient and attractive for residents and businesses.

Various policy goals have driven the “smart city” movement—cost reduction, transport efficiency, pollution control, climate resilience, safety, business development, and demographic inclusion.

Over the years, some projects succeeded, some failed, and others are still a work in progress.

Women are playing a more prominent role than before in city leadership, and in smart city strategy. The Bloomberg American Cities Initiative recently surveyed mayors of 156 U.S. cities and found that 24 percent were led by women mayors, close to the national average of 21 percent.

“Women are innovators in cities across the country,” said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) at a Bloomberg Government Women in Smart Cities forum on June 14. “We bring another lens to the landscape, because whether we are managing our children, loved ones, crafting policies, or contributing to our communities, we see the whole picture.”

Today, cities are drawing on lessons learned when developing programs. It’s no longer just about purchasing new technology for the sake of innovation.

“In the world of technology, it always seems we are talking about new, shiny things, but implementation actually comes down to building relationships,” said Adrienne Schmoeker, director of civic engagement and strategy at the mayor’s office of data analytics in New York City.

“As we craft local, state and national strategies around technology, we should consider how the city itself can act as a node, interacting with networks rather than being a barrier. Women can push it further to solve more challenges in our communities,” Schmoeker said.

Two-thirds of mayors say managing and funding infrastructure is one of the biggest policy challenges, the Bloomberg survey found. Seventeen percent of respondents said infrastructure— streets, roads, bridges, schools, airports, and technology—will be the biggest problem for their cities 10 years from now.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Ind. said improving infrastructure depends on a trained workforce to support it. Policymakers should ensure “local people have an opportunity to be employed, be trained, and make a good living in our cities.”

She also highlighted the role of public-private partnerships and “robust partners in state, local, and federal government.” Some fifty percent of respondents to the Bloomberg survey said their cities have a fund for vehicle outside of government to raise money for public programs.

Such programs can only be effective long term if they incorporate data collection and transparent communication, Freeman-Wilson said. For example, cities working to repair aging infrastructure should first quantify the scope of the problem with data, and then communicate those results to key stakeholders and the public.

Leaders should “explain along the way what the progress is, what we are finding, and how this helps the end goal. People are appreciative of the information and how it will help them.”

Infrastructure reform is just one example of priorities that are keeping mayors awake at night. Mayors who responded to the Bloomberg survey also cited city budgets, jobs and economic growth, and affordable housing as major problems cities anticipate 10 years from now.

In the background of these discussions is the promise of 5G technology. Policy leaders and the private sector view it as an essential backbone to the next phase of smart city integration.

“It’s important to our nation’s competitiveness. It has the opportunity to deliver innovative services that change the way we interact w each other,” Rep. Matsui said.

Verizon is one company that is working with local governments to enhance smart city goals with innovative technology. There is “new energy all around 5G,” said Kathy Grillo, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at Verizon.

“We see this a transformational technology that changes how we interact and do business and run our cities, and deal with our children.” Looking ahead, Verizon is working with the city of Sacramento and 10 other cities to launch a 5G pilot to support local services, Grillo said.

Today’s mayors are very aware of the need to ask questions and survey residents before rolling out even the most promising new technologies. They can determine, for example, if end users even have the right data plan to get the most out of a solution.

“Too often we implement a technology solution that’s not right for the community,” said Shonte Eldridge, deputy chief of operations at the city of Baltimore.

“We need to take the time to make sure they are going to get use out of this investment. They are the taxpayers.”