Tom Mullen, Chief Data Officer, County of Riverside
For instance, if we are asked to help improve mobility, we can respond with solutions such as congestion management systems that optimize traffic flow by use of roadway sensors and cameras coupled with AI enhanced software. Or something less complex but equally beneficial like, real-time online bus tracking joined with available wifi at each bus stop for riders to find and view the status of a bus or all the buses.
In other instances, smart initiatives are not always the ‘right answer’ for a community challenge but can be looked at as an enhancement to a proposed solution. For example, a lost animal may need help from a real live person to help it reconnect with its family. Yes, there are tools that can help the animal services worker reconnect families and their lost pests more accurately and with greater speed, but at the moment, the animal needs someone to take action.
A good idea cares not where it came from, but only that it arrives
Much of what smart community tools and solutions provide is the collection and sharing of information in a more effective, efficient, and accurate manner. This can lead to more informed decisions, actions, transparency, and access to services. It’s reasonable to ask why a solution or tool is proposed, and how does it enhance and align with our community.
By keeping our residents, visitors, and workers at the center of our initiatives and programs, a successful smart community program will reflect the following key areas.
1. Smart community strategies should be aspirational, providing the community hope and attainable goals for a better tomorrow.
Providing vision and aspirational goals for a community can positively impact how the community perceives itself and how they communicate that perception to others. This has a compounding effect that can lead to improved value for a community.
While not all initiatives of a smart community strategy need to be grand plans or home runs, they should support the overarching community goals. Smart initiatives should be linked to near term and ongoing related projects, programs, and operations, and connect in some way to the long-term plan for the community.
2. Smart community initiatives should leverage community resources.
These resources can be existing and obtainable capital, infrastructure, opportunities, community members, and knowledge. For example, these could be business centers and downtown, significant community employers, parks, sports fields, universities, and colleges, or tourist destinations. What is your community already known for? Do you want to enhance this image or change it?
Take stock of all available resources, not just the obvious. You may discover an opportunity to leverage a local resource in a new way.
3. Embrace and leverage all community leaders.
Leaders, whether they are elected, appointed, community, or business leaders, will pursue smart community initiatives to improve their community for a wide variety of reasons. Likewise, through your efforts, you may discover a new leader who has a passion for your efforts.
Be open and inclusive with these leaders and encourage them to provide hope and create opportunities for residents and businesses alike.
Additionally, these leaders can provide access to the community resources you are encouraged to leverage and will likely need to deliver a more effective project.
4. Your smart community initiatives should reflect your local or regional community.
You are special, and your community is unique.
There is a need to recognize the way the community interacts internally and with others, the expectations of community members, their social norms, and local rules and regulations that are in place. These are some of the concepts that make our communities unique, special, and desirable. They are also considerations to remember when evaluating smart community initiatives and how they will be perceived by the community.
Just because a smart community project worked for one or more locations doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for your community.
5. Recognize that one community member’s favorable experience is another member’s encroachment on personal freedoms and privacy.
Successful initiatives will balance these expectations and experiences.
6. Empower one another to live well, create individual and shared positive experiences, and seize opportunities.
A good idea cares not where it came from, but only that it arrives. Allow and encourage others to share and act upon their good ideas that support the community’s culture and goals.
As we focus on smart communities, I am reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, ‘Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee, and do not try to make the universe a blind alley.’ As leaders, we need to be looking down the road to ensure we are not just delivering a win today, but rather that we are enhancing and strengthening the community for tomorrow. When mindful of the big picture concepts listed here, smart community solutions are powerful tools that can provide new and exciting enhancements and opportunities for our communities.