Smart Cities: Growing Opportunities in America’s Cities and Towns

Sam Whitehorn

From rural America to cities, technology is improving infrastructure and creating efficiencies.

Communities across the country have more advanced thinking than the Federal government as they seek to make cities “smarter” in order to more efficiently move people, goods, and deliver government services. The previous Congress and Administration prioritized and placed substantial energy looking to modernize American cities. Going forward, the 115th Congress and current Administration must continue to push the envelope with funding and tax incentives to coordinate a process to facilitate “Smart Cities”.

Smart Cities is defined differently in the eye of each Mayor, county executive, county council and others across the country. The responsibility for providing services to the community fall to the state and local elected officials and public servants. Congress and the Administration must hold themselves responsible for providing true leadership and clarity of intent as motivation for counties and municipalities.

What needs to happen? Existing stove piped grant programs need to be refocused and repurposed so that they do not just continue to feed communities the same old programs. They must instead stimulate and incentive government entities to go push boundaries further. Then, we must reevaluate the wide range of existing programs to determine what works and what is wasted spending. The forthcoming infrastructure debate will conveniently enable committees with specific jurisdiction, Congressional leadership, and the administration to apply new ideas towards making structural changes.

It’s clear the world is changing rapidly and our ability to use new tools to move people, goods and everything else that drives our cities must evolve. Last year the Department of Transportation solicited applications for smart cities. Seventy-eight cities applied with incredibly creative ways to make our lives better. Ultimately, Columbus was awarded $50 million for its plan to create a transit system of the future. The federal government can begin searching for next-generation solutions within those applications as groundwork for how to adapt and innovate.

There is keen interest in the public and private sectors to push the envelope as we look to increase capacity and efficiency. We should be using data, smart technologies and other actions to make our cities better and safer for all of us – whether it is unclogging the roads, reducing pollution, addressing infant mortality, providing greater and faster internet access, or hundreds of other government services.

Metropolitan areas like Denver and medium-sized communities like Charleston, SC must equally strive to push the envelope to adjust the cities to the increasing population. What better way to drive skilled workers into your economy than proving your region to be prepared and forward thinking? The advent of on-demand delivery creates more, not less traffic, but the patterns can differ if it takes residents off the road. Transportation experts recognize it is not enough to grow and expand our networks to accommodate the future. Technology must play an enormous role in creating efficiencies.

Just look at airports. We queue slowly through security today. Why? Because the choke points have limits. Other countries already use new methods to reduce queues in their airports without sacrificing safety. Think about any traffic jam you have been in – can we use technology and other mechanisms to do a better job with what we have even as we look to expand capacity?

These are just a few of the questions that Congress needs to address for the cities of the American future. We cannot wait years for political gridlock to solve real gridlock in the streets when technology, ideas, and opportunities are right in front of us.

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