Ideas to Action: Page 2 of 16


Effecting change is made even more difficult by the stove-piped nature of most city governments. For at least the last 100 years, cities have been divided into departments, each with its own specialty and each with a high degree of autonomy. Although it’s not necessary to abolish departments to become a smart city, it is necessary for those departments to collaborate more effectively and to share resources. As you will read below, the roadmapping effort is a “forcing function” that obliges departments to work together.

Becoming a smart city is further compounded by overlapping boundaries. Urban challenges –crime, transportation, water supply, economic development, etc. – don’t stop neatly at city borders. Jurisdictions overlap as well. Many metropolitan regions have dozens of cities and townships within their sphere. They also embrace hundreds of school districts, water districts, transit authorities, port authorities, human services agencies and other organizations. Consider the Greater Chicago metropolis by way of example. It crosses 14 counties in three states and contains approximately 350 municipalities, 350 school districts and 140 library districts.

Meanwhile, cities are also subject to rules and regulations from federal agencies, state or provincial governments, county or parish governments, public utility commissions and so on. And, to top it off, cities must contend with myriad advocacy groups, special interest groups, neighborhood associations, business associations and other groups whose agendas can sometimes be at cross purposes. The United States provides an example. By one count, it has roughly 20,000 municipal governments, 13,000 school districts and 37,381 special authorities.

As Brookings Institution scholar Bruce Katz explained in 2011, “an excess of municipal governments (and the general absence of metropolitan governments) means that there is no ‘one stop shop’ for the application of innovative technologies. The public institutions that make decisions about transport are different from the ones that make decisions about education or water. These separate entities rarely coordinate with each other to integrate technology (and share information) between themselves or with utilities and other private or quasi public entities.”

Done right, roadmapping is a process that involves and pulls together these disparate groups.

Other roadmapping benefits

In addition to the advantages mentioned above, a smart city roadmap has these additional benefits:

  • Maximizing synergies and minimizing costs. Considering the big picture can help a city find ways to share infrastructure and share costs – doing away with unnecessary duplication of ICT investments.
  • Identifying the best places to start. Picking the “low-hanging fruit” – projects that have a big return for a relatively small investment in money and time – usually makes sense. If a city starts with quick, “big bang” projects, it can build momentum and public support. It can also help pay for future projects with savings from the early ones.
  • Enabling cities to build in stages. With a plan in place, you can be confident everything will work together in the end because you’re adhering to principles and standards that ensure interoperability and collaboration. With such a framework, a city can move forward one step at a time, knowing that individual projects will be compatible with each other, even if they are built at different times.
  • Increasing public support. A roadmap paints a picture of future improvements in livability, workability and sustainability. It can dramatically increase public understanding and cooperation. It can also rally support and financing from the private sector.
  • Attracting talent and business. Cities everywhere want to woo talented professionals and job-creating businesses, but both are increasingly choosy when deciding where to establish themselves. They are attracted to cities that have a strong, compelling vision for a better future and a path to get there. Your roadmap, in other words, is also a recruiting tool.