Small smart city projects show more success than large ones

Fri, 2014-08-08 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

In the Smart Cities Readiness Guide, we encourage cities to "think big, but start small" when plotting their smart city roadmap. Early success with a relatively low-cost, high-impact starter project can garner support from citizens, the business community and other stakeholders. And that support will be critical when the city is ready to promote a more ambitious smart city agenda. As the article below indicates, that advice is worth heeding.  -- Jesse Berst

After surveying the smart city landscape, some observers are concluding that less might be more when it comes to smart city projects.

“Smaller smart technology implementations are providing the most successful case studies,” writes David Akka in the U.K. edition of HuffPost Tech. “From Canada to Poland, these smaller smart town and city projects are reporting a positive return on investment and are becoming good examples for larger cities like London to follow.”

Akka contrasts the scope and scale of several types of projects to make his point. For example, model smart cities like South Korea’s Songdo and Abu Dhabi’s Masda -- both grandiose developments built from the ground up -- offer more of a technology showcase than a clear solution to a clear problem. 

However, “bounded projects” that are focused on a specific goal with clearly measurable results are another story. For example, Akka points to the Town of Olds in Alberta, Canada, which was losing 39% of its water thanks to leaky pipes. The city's investment in leak detection sensors from Council Lead Partner Itron provided an immediate payback. He also calls out San Antonio Municipal Court System, which with technology from Council Lead Partner Cisco installed audio and video enabled kiosks (see photo) in three neighborhood locations where residents could conveniently handle their routine Municipal Court offenses.

Akka doesn’t contend that small projects are necessarily easier to get off the ground. They still require funding, political support, navigating of bureaucracy and a reality check. To that last point, he notes for example that water pipes in London don’t have enough room to install a simple water meter.

The relationship between project scale and risk are also discussed in the recent Brooking’s Institute paper “Getting Smarter About Smart Cities.” The article advocates for testing solutions in specific districts or neighborhoods before launching city-wide initiatives. “After demonstrating proven demand in smaller, often business-focused districts, technologies like smart meters or electric vehicle charging stations can be expanded to an entire city,” write the authors.

Related resources …

Itron Technology Helps Town of Olds Recover Lost Water Revenue and Achieve Conservation Goals

Court Connects Residents to Services Using Collaboration Technology


Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free. Follow @Jesse_Berst and connect on LinkedIn.