‘Lead by the city may not succeed’

Silo thinking seems to be one of the main barriers for executing Smart City initiatives.While sharing knowledge is preached all over Europe and collaborative funding could easily save money, competitiveness often wins it in practice. More and more people believe that cities should consider developing a leadership organisation comprised of independent professionals from different sectors. David Sandel is one of them. He worked in a regional planning capacity for eight years in the USA (St. Louis area) and is now an Intelligent City Master Planner focused on The Loop Media Hub. Gig.U and Kansas City – Google Fiber.

What differences do you see in Smart City development between Europe and the USA?
‘American cities and agencies tend to compete internally with each other for resources. They operate more in silos and sometimes end up working at cross purposes with each other. My perception is that European city organisations seem to be more collaborative in nature. In Europe there seems to be a mutual interest in sharing information and resources.’

What direct benefits do we gain from collaboration?
‘Despite an enormous amount of experience with network programmes, there is still a significant void in understanding how to execute Smart or Intelligent City projects. This is not only a matter of competition. Very few persons have yet had the experience of leading a Smart City initiative, because they should be leading the development and funding of solutions across multiple market verticals. Existing leadership tends to focus on cost savings within a silo instead of managing relationships to create greater value and lower costs for all stakeholders across multiple market verticals. While, for example, collaborative funding can save money, by sharing expenses amongst different partners. From a regional perspective we can, for example, consider master service agreements for videoconferences or real-estate energy management. Also, in terms of funding, many people have different knowledge of how to execute contracts or how to raise money. That’s another reason why collaboration is essential.’

And that is why you opt for an independent regional planning board?
‘Lead by the city alone may not succeed in developing the greatest degree of economic development capability. You need an organisation that represents the long-term economic development interests of the entire community. These interests are better represented by an independent regional planning board comprised of stakeholders from all sectors of the economy, including the local city government.’

How to achieve this?
‘It begins with stakeholder meetings at local level where you go through the same envisioning process together. You do not necessarily have to agree on a vision in the beginning, as long as you discover mutual interests. In Kansas City, several community groups started on small scale with public sessions where the entire community was invited. Small projects in strong neighbourhoods can put together private-public partnerships, gain trust and jump start the education process.’

Part II:
An Education Programme for Smart Cities

You are investigating an academic degree programme  for Smart Cities. Could this education be a solution to global issues, such as the economic downturn ?
‘Lack of education is one of the main challenges for Smart Cities and Intelligent Communities. There needs to be a University based education programme available, with both a degree and a certificate programme for professionals. We all need to embrace this kind of collaborative planning and business thinking, because of the new economy that we are heading into both on a national and an international basis. What I see in the new American economy is that we shift to “what is good for community will be good for business “, instead of the old focus of “what is good for business will be done at the expense of the community”. Will we recover from global recession, it is fundamentally important that we focus on improving communities as incubators of all forms of innovation instead of controlling community outcomes. Education is one essential key to achieving this. I have currently initiated conversations with a small number of City-University pairs around the globe as stakeholders in developing an academic degree programme for Smart Cities. ’

How can European knowledge institutions add value to such an initiative?
‘They are of strategic importance as they both have similar issues, but not necessarily in the same form. For example, the USA can learn from Europe in terms of sharing of information and collaboration, while Europe can learn from the USA in promoting individual efforts and then harvesting the results. In other words, it is the collaboration between different cities and countries in this regard that will produce the best results.’

2 comments op “‘Lead by the city may not succeed’”

  1. Ray says:

    Spot on! Here lies The Secret of Succesful Smart City Initiatives … When analyzing current smart city programmes, leadership and governance seems to be required from government, while knowledge & expertise come from collaboration with private sector, industry and knowledge institutes, and its emerging new ecosystems. Still, hands on projects are equally needed. Am totally with Adam Greenberg; empower the community from bottum up, while organizing a framework for the future.

  2. The regional approach emerging in the US sounds very similar to the Living Lab approach that underpins so much Smart City work here in Europe. Bringing public administrators, citizens, community groups and SMEs together in the co-creation of services is the epitome of SMART. See: