page image

CHAPTER IV - The Smart City Use Case

Municipal deployment of IoT technologies to improve the efficiency and quality of service delivery is among the most developed use cases for the IoT. The “smart city” also raises some of the most pointed policy questions and presents early opportunities to get these policies right.

The term “smart city” usually refers to the use of ubiquitous sensors within urban infrastructure to generate data about usage patterns and service needs.i And it is also the umbrella term for more sector-specific notions of “smart growth,” tools like the “smart grid,” and many other “smart” innovations for urban prosperity and livability. Smart city initiatives cover the waterfront, from civic engagement, sustainability, and transportation to education, telecommunications and health services.ii

In Europe, the “smart city” has quasi-official status, with the European Parliament ranking cities in 28 nations based on performance in governance, human flourishing, livability, mobility, economy and environment. The UK has created a smart cities office to promote the synthesis of “hard infrastructure, social capital including local skills and community institutions, and (digital) technologies to fuel sustainable economic development and provide an attractive environment for all.”iii In the United States, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has held meetings on smart cities and technological implementation.

Although imprecise, these conceptions of the smart city all share two features: They emphasize public-private partnerships and place information and communications technologies (ICT) at the core of smart urban operation.iv The smart city seeks “to address public issues via ICT-based solutions on the basis of a multi-stakeholder, municipally based partnership.v In the ideal smart city, robust Internet connectivity and big data analytics support the delivery of services and creation of opportunity, enabling residents to live in more sustainable, productive, healthy and civically engaged

Benefits of the Smart City
Bob Pepper, Vice President of Global Technology Policy for Cisco Systems, presented Cisco’s vision of the smart city and the results of its partnership with the city of Barcelona: “What makes a city smart is that it recognizes the central importance of technology and information to improve its processes.” Technology fundamentally becomes part of a city’s strategic vision and mission. Barcelona has realized cost-savings by using sensor networks to improve the efficiency of ordinary city services like “traffic management, trash collection, public safety policing, road management, road maintenance, and snow removal.”

For example, sensor networks tell the sanitation department when a trash bin is full and should be emptied. Until it’s full, no truck needs to stop. Pepper continued, “Barcelona has saved $58 million a year on its connected water management by identifying where there's leakage and where there are spills. The city’s connected street lighting has already reduced those bills by 33 percent, or $37 million a year. Barcelona’s parking revenue has already increased by about $50 million a year while also reducing emissions, because 30 percent of congestion in a city is people driving around looking for parking places.” San Francisco is experimenting with the same system. IBM has undertaken a public-private partnership with Dade County, Florida, to use sensor networks and analytics to reduce water consumption by 20 percent.

Concerns About the Smart City
The literature on smart cities can be decidedly utopian. This is particularly true when it casts its gaze on new cities, like Sangdo, South Korea—built over the past decade with smart city technology at its core. There is also a dystopian strain in smart city commentary, which focuses on the dangers of surveillance and ways in which the prerogatives of data may increase the power of private corporations over public functions and public resources.vii

Conference participants focused on the issue of “technology redlining.” Shawn Chang, Chief Democratic Counsel of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, expressed concern that many smart city applications depend on an equal distribution of technology that does not exist. In his words, there “are dark fibers in the cities that cannot be lit because of legal and other obstacles” and that has to be addressed.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn related the smart city challenge to the more general digital inclusion challenge: “The 29% of the public that aren’t digitally enabled have to be part of the discussion.” She thought that Chicago has managed to develop its urban technology vision “without leaving anybody behind.” It has placed five technology schools in disadvantaged areas and attracted teens to libraries with offerings around innovation and makers labs.

Chicago issued a technology plan for the city in 2013, after convening public and private stakeholders.viii Among its 28 initiatives are to implement policies and infrastructure that make the city a leader in environmental sensing, use data to drive public efficiency, increase and improve city data, research data-driven solutions to major urban challenges and support civic hackers. While not exclusively an IoT or smart cities agenda, IoT applications are important for implementation of the Chicago technology plan.

Then there are the privacy issues. It may be valuable to monitor buildings for heat loss as a way to enable more efficient building construction and energy use choices. However, the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Executive Director, Marc Rotenberg, worried that much of this monitoring can easily be linked to personally identifiable information. “These systems can be a form of mass surveillance, because you've got video cameras, you've got license plate readers, you've got things that are hooked into Homeland Security that are performing public safety functions in an automated way.”

The surveillance aspects of the smart city have a differential impact on different populations. Nicole Turner-Lee, Vice President and Chief Research & Policy Officer of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, observed that “a smart city for somebody who lives on the South Side of Chicago means more cameras to monitor your movement on the street. That's not necessarily something that people want to see in their community. They probably would rather see a connected library or connected park district.”

Stefaan Verhulst, Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer of the Governance Laboratory (GovLab) at NYU urged a more holistic approach to all digital initiatives and greater integration of the IoT with the “Internet of People.” There is the e‑government approach, which is all about technology and technology infrastructure for the ends of conducting city business online. Then there is the open government approach, which is quite often about open data. And then there is the social innovation approach, which is about crowd-sourced knowledge and citizen engagement. “At a certain point they all have to start working together. The stove piping of the smart city application, without integrating it with the smart citizen, is holding back a lot of the transformative impact.”

Creating the Smart City
Creating smart cities poses problems of both leadership within particular cities and scaling innovation across cities. It takes strong leadership to implement smart city solutions. This is especially true where, as is often the case, the municipal department that realizes savings or additional revenue (e.g., streets or sanitation) may not be the department that has to develop the systems to make it work. There has to be the will and wherewithal to invest capital in systems upfront that will be paid for out of operational expense savings over the longer term. In Barcelona, the executive has substantial power over municipal functions and the deputy mayor has been tasked with making the city smart.

Even where there is leadership and vision within a city, there is the problem of scaling solutions that work in one city to the more than 20,000 cities in the United States. Julia Johnson, President of Net Communications, worries that local governments lack the expertise and resources to implement innovative technology solutions. Kaseem Reed, Mayor of Atlanta, reportedly said in an earlier forum that if someone comes to him with a plan, the city can implement it, but the city does not have the expertise to fashion one. This willingness to partner raises questions about the role of industry in municipal governance and operations.

Reed Hundt, CEO of the Coalition for Green Capital, supposed that more than 90% of U.S. cities lack funds or IT competence to be in the smart city conversation: “Why shouldn’t the federal government create a smart city in a box and give it to cities?” He raised the possibility of using FirstNet funds, as well as universal service funds, to support municipal IT systems and IoT systems. “Instead of us all admiring Chicago and Barcelona, why don't we just say that the federal government should create a ‘smart city in a box’ and give it to all 20,000 cities?” he asked. “ Why should just the rich cities be smart cities?” In fact, Citymart in Europe and Bloomberg Philanthropies in the United States are trying to create and disseminate smart city tools to free cities from having to reinvent systems from scratch.

Robert Atkinson, Founder and President of The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, observed that smart cities are really just cities that have smart implementations of technology. He thought one key role of the federal government should be to stoke competition among cities, help them override unions and other forms of resistance, and help incentivize intermediary organizations that develop and deploy smart city applications (e.g., “I think the role of the federal government could be to put out $500 million or so and have a competition in five cities that want to bid for that and transform everything at once, so that we can do the data analytics around it and open up the data.”

Marjory Blumenthal, Executive Director of the President's Council on Science and Technology, emphasized the importance of “change agents” in spearheading technological innovation in government and in making competitive challenges effective. It was a Presidential Innovation Fellow who was behind the SmartAmerica Challenge—a White House effort to showcase smart city/IoT solutions. Intel’s David Hoffman agreed that this kind of challenge accelerates municipal innovation. Intel participated in the SmartAmerica Challenge, focusing on job creation. “This is a great role for government,” he said. This focus may be particularly important in the smart cities context because, as Joe Waz, Senior Strategic Advisor for Comcast Corporation, noted, cities are often reluctant to implement technology solutions because it puts them at odds with unions, which fear that technology will kill jobs.

Joanne Hovis, President of CTC Technology & Energy, thought that cities actually were capable of implementing many smart city ideas, but were not convinced of the value proposition. “Some of what seem to us as very clear and quantifiable benefits might seem a little bit more speculative from their standpoint.” Shawn Chang, Chief Democratic Counsel of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, observed that for cities to really participate in smart city initiatives, they will have to be able to leverage existing infrastructure resources like dark fiber.

Dale Hatfield, Adjunct Professor & Senior Fellow at the Silicon Flatirons Center, University of Colorado at Boulder, recommended the building of a reference architecture so cities know what they can do with different sources of sensor data. NIST has already taken steps in this direction, starting with its 2014 SmartAmerica Challenge, which organized an exposition to feature and “accelerate advances in the field by providing a venue for innovators to present concepts for interconnected [IoT] technology, programs and test beds to demonstrate the potential of improving the economy, fueling job creation, creating new business opportunities and saving lives.ix The second step was the launch of NIST’s Global Cities program, which seeks to build teams and partnerships worldwide to create an “IoT Global Connectivity Fabric Strategy of architectures and guidelines for interconnected ‘systems of systems’ and a common data exchange/data analytics model for large scale IoT deployments.x

Nicol Turner-Lee of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council praised the MacArthur Foundation for its role in supporting the initial Chicago plan and thought this was a story about the role of philanthropy in convening stakeholders and funding smart cities.xi When developing effective models, she urged that stakeholders focus on the “central core of what they’re trying to accomplish. If it’s economic development, stay in that lane.”

i IDC Government Insights, Smart Cities and the Internet of Everything: The Foundation for Delivering Next-Generation Citizen Services, White Paper #GI243955, Alexandria, VA, 2013. Available online: IBM has a branded “smarter cities” initiative to produce data management systems for the delivery of city services, from police work to trash collection. See
ii See, for example, Taewoo Nam and Theresa A. Pardo, “Conceptualizing Smart City with Dimensions of Technology, People, and Institutions,” The Proceedings of the 12 Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, College Park, MD, 2011. Available online:; Paul Foley, “Defining Smart Cities,” Digital Agenda for Europe, May 31, 2013. Available online:
iii UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills, Smart Cities Background Paper, 2013, 7. Available online:
iv Robert G. Hollands, “Will the Real Smart City Please Stand Up?” City, 12 no.3, (2008): 303–320; L. Anthopoulos and P. Fitsilis, “Digital to Ubiquitous Cities: Defining a Common Architecture for Urban Development”, Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Intelligent Environments, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July, 2010, doi: 10.1109/IE.2010.61.; Rosabeth Moss Kanter & Stanley S. Litow, Informed and Interconnected: A Manifesto for Smarter Cities, Harvard Business School Working Paper, 09-141, 2009. Available online:; European Parliament, Mapping Smart Cities in the EU, 2014. Available online:
v European Parliament, supra, note 16 at 9.
vi Anthony Townsend, Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia, New York: Norton, 2013.; Emmanouil Tranos and Drew Gertner, Smart Networked Cities? Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 25 no. 2, (2012), 176–177; Rosabeth Moss Kanter & Stanley S. Litow, Informed and Interconnected: A Manifesto for Smarter Cities, Harvard Business School Working Paper, 09-141, 2009. Available online:
vii Adam Greenfield, Against the Smart City, New York: Do Projects, 2013.
viii City of Chicago Technology Plan, September 2013. Available online:
ix NIST, SmartAmerica Expo, June 27, 2014. Available online:
x NIST, Global City Teams Challenge—SmartAmerica Round Two, August 25, 2014. Available online: .
xi See Sean Thornton, The Smart Chicago Collaborative: A New Model for Civic Innovation in Cities, Data-Smart City Solutions, Dec. 2, 2013. Available online: Chicago is also the recipient of a Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge,
Title Goes Here
Close [X]