Last year in the wake of a vigorous debate about how to turn Newcastle into a center of innovation I posted my thoughts on how to create an innovative city. It certainly generated some discussion and the wheels have actually started turning.
Central to my plan were the need for high-speed broadband and the idea of holding a prominent tech and innovative event in the city. I can confirm that progress is being made on both fronts but eventual success still relies on the support of the city’s leaders, both government and business.
When you consider that the nascent app economy spurred on by iOS, Android and Facebook apps has generated 466,000 jobs in the U.S. economy since 2007, there is a lot to gain from encouraging innovation.
Meanwhile I have been researching what other innovative cities around the world have been done to get ahead.
What has been consistently repeated is the importance of cities in creating an enabling environment for emerging technology companies.
This was a key topic of discussion at at the first-ever Cities Summit held in Vancouver recently. Mayors of 35 cities around the world joined with executives and consultants to discuss open cities, digital cities, urban laboratories, smart-city financing, and startup cities.
For example, San Jose (California) has created a “Framework for Establishing Demonstration Partnerships” which allows the city to work towards a more sustainable future–including the creation of 25,000 new green jobs–by enabling local companies to use municipal facilities as urban laboratories to test out new clean tech, sustainability, and mobility technologies. Rather than having to jump through the typical bureaucratic hoops, the demonstration allows the fast-tracking of pilot projects from local companies.
The Summit made it clear that smart cities of the future will find ways to incentivise and enable private sector innovation and local economic growth via innovative use of demand-side tools, as opposed to supply-side solutions like tech parks and tax breaks. For example, the feedback was that the emerging companies wanted to find a way to get their pre-commercial technologies tested by the city. This allows startups to get the kinks out as well as increase their ability to sell technology to other markets.
Cities can also use things like new standards or regulations, such as green building standards, to stimulate demand for new clean solutions and innovation.
Talent is another obvious challenge. Attracting and retaining young, educated people to study, live, and work in smart cities is a crucial. The Summit identified that cities first need to increase their livability and grow their enabling infrastructure to support emerging companies, then embark on a city branding campaign that will help attract and retain new talent, startups, services, and the arts.
Seems to me Newcastle has done this back-to-front. Last year the city launched an attractive new branding initiative but we haven’t addressed the key issues of transport, new business support or broadband. We have an incredibly good lifestyle in Newcastle but much of the basic infrastructure that will encourage innovation and growth is still wanting.
If our leaders can address these key issues and then establish programs to support and encourage innovation we can truly become a smart city.