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Smart cities
Smart cities

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2 Smart city vision and strategy

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Figure 3 Creating a smart city strategy

A strategy sets the strategic direction for a smart city initiative – a course of action that leads to the achievement of the aims and objectives. It might also contain a roadmap in which actions are positioned along a timeline.

Some cities create smart city strategies and roadmaps when they initiate their smart city work. Others focus first on the delivery of innovative projects and develop a strategy or roadmap later, when they have more experience of working with a smart city perspective. Smart city concepts are not entirely new. Many have grown out of wider sustainability and technology initiatives, and an approach that involves embedding smart city actions in an existing city strategy might be more appropriate for a city. The term ‘digital plan’ is sometimes used in place of ‘strategy’ or ‘roadmap’. Alternatively, smart city actions might be integrated into a wider city sustainability plan. You’ll be exploring some smart city strategies from Birmingham (UK), Chicago and Dubai shortly.

The main value of a strategy is in bringing together partners to create a shared vision. They will come to an understanding of where a city is today, their aims for the future, their plans for how they will get there and where they will need to invest resources. In reality as soon as a strategy is written it will go out of date because cities and technology are changing all the time. But if a strategy is flexible it can be a useful framework for measuring and reviewing a city’s progression towards becoming smarter. Having a strategy and leadership in place can also maximise potential and help to draw in funding and other forms of investment.

How does a city decide where to start? It must look carefully at what it wants to achieve in the smart city, at its city challenges and opportunities, at its citizens and where the city’s strengths lie. All of these can be used to create a shared smart city vision and guiding principles.

It’s also important to look at what a city has already: existing partnerships and programmes on which smart city initiatives could build. A smart city partnership could achieve this by engaging a broad range of stakeholders. Political leadership is important, but equally important is the involvement of citizens and business in shaping the future direction of their city.

It’s also helpful to have a timescale for initiatives and to ensure these are measurable. Measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) allow progress and success against the city strategy to be tracked and reported. You’ll be exploring the opportunities and challenges of doing this next week.

What are the challenges in creating a strategy or roadmap? If you set clear actions early on do you limit creativity, innovation and enterprise? City challenges and technology are constantly evolving. Expert smart city strategist Ger Baron, who was instrumental in establishing Amsterdam Smart City and is now Amsterdam’s chief technology officer, made the observation that ‘the concept of smart cities is like art: the context is more important than the product’ (van Beurden, 2011, p. 6). He has concerns about roadmaps and believes that while an instrument to measure progress is needed, this is not the roadmap traditionally used by business. Amsterdam has focused on creating a platform on which stakeholders can work together on innovative projects, bringing together innovators and investors. Find out how, in the video coming next.