“There’s not one definition for a smart city – but we are working to change that”

Patricia McCarney 200x200I interviewed Dr Patricia McCarney, who is President and CEO of the World Council on City Data (WCCD) and is a Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Global Cities Institute (GCI) at the University of Toronto, Canada. She enlightened me on the need to agree on a standard set of metrics for a smart city, and how the WCCD and Global Cities Institute continue to work towards these requirements.

What is a smart city in your view?

Unfortunately, there is no one definition for a smart city and coming up with a single, “one-size fits all” definition for cities around the world is next to impossible. Every city, globally, has a unique sets of needs, wants and resources and the definition of a smart city must adapt to this fluidity.  If a city in a less developed region is struggling with basic electrical and sanitation needs, then that should be the city’s focus with regards to the smart agenda. However, this also offers a unique opportunity for cities to leapfrog. This is where ICT and smart technologies come in. If a city has no street lighting, this presents an ideal opportunity to invest in smart lighting from the get-go – to conserve energy and money with LED lighting for example – and bypass the more traditional lighting infrastructure. But smart cities cannot be solely defined by ICT.

So how can you tell if a city is smart?

Global cities InstituteA smart city is all about efficiencies. It is about maximizing the quality of life of its citizens and utilizing the most appropriate resources to drive progress. However, good quality, city level data is essential. Benchmarking and goal setting are an integral part of measuring the growth of a city on its journey towards becoming smart. We have been working for several years, beginning in 2008, on the development of standardized indicators for cities that not only allows for year over year, standardized comparison – but also global comparability. ISO 37120 is a set of 100 indicators that cities worldwide have agreed upon. It is the first ISO standard for cities that we have developed at the Global Cities Institute, together with 250 cities across 83 countries. The standard measures a city’s economic, social, and environmental performance for city services and quality of life. Overall, it is a defined and standardized set of methodologies for a key set of indicators that allows cities to understand where they are, where they are going and what kind of progress they have made against targets and goals. We have created the World Council on City Data (WCCD) to test ISO 37120 with cities globally.

What is the biggest challenge for smart cities?

Personally, I believe that one of the biggest challenges for the smart cities movement worldwide has been the inability of cities to “talk” to each other. When we first began our work on standardized indicators in 2008, we asked 9 cities what they measure, how they measure it and what indicators they use. It turned out these nine cities were using 1,100 different indicators – and only two were comparable. Cities were unable to grow and truly become “smart” because they did not have a way to set up targets or measure this progress. Seven years later, through ISO 37120, we are proud to say that this is a new tool to help solve that challenge. Once cities build standardized data, they can have a more informed dialogue that will drive learning and smart solutions for better city development into the future.

But a smart city is not only a responsibility of governments, right? How can you involve the industry and big companies as well?

Yes, and what we are seeing today in the work of the WCCD, is that one of the key ways to involve industry and the private sector is to have open data sets, with high caliber data. This allows the private sector – alongside citizens – to engage with city leaders through open data and to find innovative ways to use the data to improve citizen quality of life and to help target investment. In my view, ISO 37120 is a major step in bringing together government and companies, because it allows them to consider data as an entry point for more informed targets, as well as more innovative and smart solutions. Through an international standard like ISO 37120, city governments can showcase themselves as an ideal place to invest, with a true dedication to city services and quality of life and a plan for economic growth.

Cities, national governments, academics and the private sector must work together on all the challenges that cities are facing. Innovative technical solutions exist, however a lack of standardized data and key relationships with the private sector has meant that technological innovation is not necessarily trickling down to city planning departments.

future city

What will smart cities look like in the future?

The Global Cities Institute at the University of Toronto, together with its sister organization the WCCD, have now started work on a new standard within ISO to define and build metrics for smart cities, and we are working with over twenty countries and some global companies like Microsoft, Siemens and Philips. This new standard will supplement ISO 37120 and through its implementation, will help give us a better sense – or at least a clearer consensus – on what the smart cities of the future will look like. This means moving beyond a singular focus on ICT for smart cities and helping to ensure globally standardized city, data driving more effective and transformational change that is targeted to the specific needs and vision of any city globally. In my view, that is a smart city of the future.

View the video for more information around the work of the WCCD



Comments (1)

As regards what we mean by smart city, I would suggest a good starting point is the ISO definition for a snart city.
It has a clear ‘call to arms’ and identifies 4 core characteristics (tech being last of these – in it’s rightful enabling place)

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