Innovation

66% of US cities are investing in smart city technology

A report from the National League of Cities shows that US cities are incubators for new technology, and a sharing economy is a major part of the plan for many municipalities.

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Image: iStock/chombosan

Smart city growth continues to expand, with 66% of cities reporting that they are investing in smart city technology, and 25% of those without any smart city systems are exploring how to implement it, according to a new report from the National League of Cities (NLC).

The report, an update to a similar NLC study in 2015, was the result of a survey of elected city officials across the US. This report dove in deeper on smart city topics than the previous report.

"It's exciting to see that 66% of cities have invested in smart city technology for municipal operations or services, but I do still feel like there's a definitional issue at play on what truly is a smart city. There's so many different voices, from the business sector to non-profit to cities themselves that are trying to define what a smart city is. And until we can really fully encapsulate what it means to be a smart city, I think that we still have some movement ahead within that space," said Brooks Rainwater, co-author of the report and senior executive and director of the Center for City Solutions at NLC.

Nicole DuPuis, who co-authored the report with Rainwater and is the principal associate for Urban Innovation in the Center for City Solutions at NLC, said, "I was a little surprised by that number [66%]. I think that it was a little higher than I anticipated, but again there's a wide range of what we're calling smart city technology. It could be everything from smart parking meters to sensor networks to governance applications. So, there's kind of a wide breadth in terms of what we're talking about."

Of those cities that have invested in smart city technology, the top applications include:

  • Smart meters for utilities
  • Intelligent traffic signals
  • E-governance applications
  • Wi-Fi kiosks
  • Radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors in pavement

SEE: Smart cities: 6 essential technologies (TechRepublic)

The role of a sharing economy in a city

The report also revealed the sharing economy has become nearly ubiquitous in day-to-day life. Companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb are operating in large and small cities. Regulation is in place for most communities, but the sharing economy still creates concerns in a fast-changing market.

While only 16% of cities have entered into a partnership with a sharing economy company, 79% of those without such a partnership are interested in forming one according to the report.

Rainwater said what this means is that "even though we're still seeing a real dichotomy between cities either liking the sharing economy or standing against it, we're starting to see this idea of partnership, particularly on the transportation side, grow up precipitously."

This year, 53% of the elected officials surveyed said their local government imposed no regulation on the sharing economy; this was in line with 2015 numbers. Also this year, 30% of those surveyed said their city had imposed light regulation or a partial ban on the sharing economy, compared to 6% in 2015.

Earlier in the development of city partnerships with sharing economy companies, some cities were reluctant to work with them, but now it's shifted to a more amicable relationship and even formal partnerships, according to the report.

The report showed that 62% of cities support the overall sharing economy, while 15% supports only ridesharing, and 1% supports only homesharing. This means that only 22% of cities do not support any form of the sharing economy, down from 29% in 2015.

Residents are also supportive of sharing economy companies, with 39% of city officials reporting that their constituents viewed such companies favorably, and 51% expressing mixed sentiments, and only 1% actively disliking the services.

Some of the benefits of a sharing economy include improved services, increased economic activity, and increased entrepreneurial activity, according to the report. Public safety was the primary concern, with 61% of those surveyed citing it.

SEE: The smart city security nightmare: How cities can stay awake (TechRepublic)

The role of drones in a smart city

Of those surveyed, 42% said their city is currently using or considering the use of drones for municipal operations. Some of the uses of drones include aerial photography, marketing, recording special events, surveying economic and land development prospects, public safety, and mapmaking.

"My big takeaway from this report is the way technology is influencing cities and almost blurring the lines between public and private. Cities are really starting to reach out to some of these private sector technology companies and trying to build partnerships to maximize the efficiencies within their city operations. Which I would probably say two years ago wasn't the case, not as broadly," DuPuis said.

SEE: Drone policy template (Tech Pro Research)

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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