The Last Word: The Rise Of The Smart City

Smart City labels and initiatives are one marker for companies seeking locations that offer cutting-edge infrastructure for business and residents. With Mary Scott Nabers, President & CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

By BF Editors
From the November/December 2023 Issue


The pace of change in our world is so rapid that just acknowledging the evolutionary advances can be challenging. One trend that should not be overlooked is the growth of cities. According to data reported by the UN Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. That data also shows by 2030 the world is projected to have 43 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants each. That growth will only intensify the challenges municipal leaders face.

Smart City
Mary Scott Nabers, President & CEO, Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

A positive trend has emerged—the creation of competitive challenges for cities visionary enough to be labeled a “Smart City.” An accepted definition is “a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information, and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare.” Significant funding awards are available for cities that launch successful initiatives, and 2024 competitions are taking shape—an enticing way to foster collaboration between the public and private sectors. Private sector firms interested in partnering with municipal leaders (some cities employ directors of innovation, for example) may benefit from the examples in this article.

Smart City
(Credit: Adobe Stock / stnazkul)


San Antonio, Texas. A “Smarter Together Testbed” document was developed with citizen input with a focus on five priorities: access to transportation, enhanced communication, public safety, upgraded infrastructure, and environmental resilience. Projects under consideration include a mobile app for citizens to access public services, testing drones to target locations in emergencies, and piloting a smart sewer network with sensors to detect water quality.

Seattle, Washington. In 2018, the city introduced the Innovation Advisory Council, to promote innovative technology. The following year, the city announced the Earthquake Early Warning project, designed to provide alerts for impending seismic activity. The project operates on a network of sensors and transmitters. Because the seismic data being collected is valuable to the United States Geological Survey, federal funding was available. An initiative completed the following year with the Washington Department of Transportation is a predictive analytics parking model to measure, record, and adjust meter rates according to demand.

Miami, Florida. Several years ago, city officials announced the “Sea Level Rise Pilot Program,” using technology to warn residents in flood-prone areas of impending tidal surges. In tandem with the Environmental Systems Research Institute, city leaders implemented four types of technology: waterfront sensors, LIDAR systems, 3-D modeling, and geographic information systems (GIS). The model assesses tidal and weather conditions, which allows city officials to warn residents of severe flooding. Miami has also become known for its use of intelligent traffic systems designed to alter 2,900 traffic corridors and intersections when needed.

Peachtree Corners, Georgia. Recognized in 2023 by the Smart Cities Council for its work on the “Street of the Future,” the city supervised a project to construct a 5G-enabled living laboratory, the Curiosity Lab. The 25,000-square-foot facility is designed to facilitate collaboration between startups and corporate innovators and is located in a technology park with a three-mile public autonomous and advanced vehicle roadway.

Morrisville, North Carolina. An initial focus for the city was the use of smart transportation technology to relieve traffic congestion and provide new/alternative modes of transportation. A Smart Corridor initiative was developed to pilot advanced sensors that adjust traffic signals according to demand. Another project, referred to as Smart Shuttle, provides ferries for residents in 16 locations for free transportation on demand. Morrisville has also launched initiatives for smart building controls and sustainability by switching town operations to solar power, when possible.

Hats off to city leaders and private sector visionaries who will work together in 2024 to prepare cities for the future!

Mary Scott Nabers is President & CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., a business development and procurement consulting firm based in Austin, TX. An expert in public-private partnerships (P3s), she is the author of Collaboration Nation—How Public-Private Ventures Are Revolutionizing the Business of Government and Inside the Infrastructure Revolution—A Roadmap for Rebuilding America.

For more insights from experts in economic development, corporate relocation, corporate expansion and site selection, read these The Last Word columns.


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