On July 11, the EastWest Institute (EWI) and its partners Unisys and Microsoft hosted a panel on risk reduction in Smart Cities, as part of the Global City Teams Challenge/Smart and Secure Cities Expo in Washington, D.C.
The panel featured Mayor Ben Walsh of Syracuse, New York; Lindsey Parker, Chief Technology Officer of the District of Columbia; Mark Forman, Global Head, Public Sector at Unisys and Kimberly Nelson, Executive Director State and Local Government Solutions at Microsoft. The discussion was moderated by EWI’s Executive Vice President Bruce McConnell.
“We are focused on the practical challenges cities face when deploying the latest technologies to improve citizen service,” commented McConnell. “Tomorrow’s smart and safe Cities will only be realized through collaboration across government, the private sector and the civic community.
The city leaders on the panel shared challenges and successes from their own experience leading Smart Cities. Mayor Walsh outlined his new initiative, the Syracuse Surge, a strategy for inclusive growth in a new economy—one marked by incorporating advanced technologies such as AI and the Internet of Things. He provided examples from Syracuse’s experience building a Smart City, highlighting the development of a smart grid for data collection and distribution for the city’s street lamps, and allowing residents to track snow plows in real time.
Panelists also discussed and provided recommendations and best practices to manage the risks and reap the full potential of Smart Cities across four main areas: cybersecurity, public safety, privacy and data protection and collaboration and coordination in governance.
A common theme among the panelists’ remarks was the need to ensure that city residents experience the value-add of smart technology and a level of security.
“People indicated they are willing to share their biometric data in return for an increase in public safety,” Mark Forman cited from a 2019 Unisys Security Index survey. “But they want to know that their data will be protected, they want to know how the government will use their data, and they want to see their security be increased so that they feel safer. City leadership has a responsibility to address these aspects.”
Panelists also emphasized the need to ensure that Smart Cities are connected beyond municipal borders. Many issues, for example water contamination or global cyber crime, transcend political boundaries and require a coordinated approach with neighboring cities, counties and the greater regional area. Washington, D.C. is part of the Greater Washington Smart Region Movement, which was created to promote cross-sector partnership and regional digital infrastructure. Similarly, Syracuse is establishing a New York Center for Smart Cities to serve as a municipal command center for managing data and sharing best practices with cities throughout the state.
Looking forward, the panelists agreed that building and maintaining a Smart City requires more than connecting traffic lights to a network—it requires a vision, a comprehensive strategy and a willingness to take risks.
Smart and Safe: Risk Reduction in Tomorrow’s Cities—a report issued by EWI, Unisys and Microsoft in 2019—provides guidance for city leadership on elements to include in a Smart City vision, and a roadmap to get there.