The “smart city” concept has been adopted by cities and counties globally. While the term is inexact, a typical vision is of an IT-enabled environment that efficiently and effectively delivers public services; enables informed, proactive decision-making by the leadership; and promotes sustainability through better resource utilization.

To deliver on this vision, smart cities require a massive deployment of information and communications technologies (ICT), including wired and wireless technologies. Included in this ICT array would be a multitude of networks and sensors in an Internet of Things (IoT) framework that permeates all sectors of modern life. Applications include smart electric grids, intelligent transportation systems, integrated monitoring systems and decision-support systems, to name the most prominent.

While a true end-to-end “smart city” with all these applications does not yet exist, many cities across the globe, such as Helsinki, Singapore and Seoul, have made significant progress in delivering on the promise. Many others, such as Ho Chi Minh City and the Iskandar Region in Malaysia, are in the advanced planning stages. Unfortunately, while a handful of U.S. cities have implemented some isolated solutions, progress in the United States on a broader smart city deployment significantly lags the international players.

On the bright side, the recently passed and soon-to-be executed Infrastructure Act has great promise to promote smart cities and counties throughout the United States. Indeed, many of the Act’s provisions have a direct connection to smart city requirements:

  • Broadband
    • Community Networks, for a connected populace ($45 billion)
    • Middle-mile broadband networks for connected institutions ($1 billion)
  • Transportation
    • Roads and bridges ($110 billion)
    • Public transit ($39 billion) and rail ($66 billion)
    • Airports ($25 billion) and ports ($17 billion)
    • Zero- and low-emission buses and ferries ($7.5 billion)
    • EV chargers ($7.5 billion)
  • Electric grid, including smart, sustainable power ($65 billion)
  • Water projects, including infrastructure, flood management, resiliency, and watershed restoration ($>100 billion)

Additional funding is available from Recovery Act funds. This is a smart-city planner’s dream come true, as a lack of funding to cover the start-up costs of building smart-city solutions has been one of the major impediments to progress. Looking at the Act’s funding provisions, one can certainly envision how cities and counties can make significant progress in their smart city visions based, for the most part, on a foundation built by these building blocks.

However, to move towards this end state, it will be necessary to align numerous initiatives funded via different sections of the bill. Unfortunately, the Act maintains the legacy silos and assigns multiple federal agencies to manage parts of the Act with funds distributed to the states for execution by states and localities. As such, the potential for wasteful, uncoordinated spending is very real.