Survival of the Smartest (City)

By: Matt Koesters
(Originally published on Venture Smarter's Portal)

The challenges that face cities in the United States today haven’t changed much. Cities still struggle with gridlock and a lack of transportation capacity. Poverty and crime are still widespread problems. At their core, these are simple problems.

The problem is that because there are so many more of us than before, the solutions to problems cities face are more complex and costlier. And because population growth isn’t going to slow down anytime soon, cities can no longer take a reactive stance on fixing society’s ills.

That’s a truth not limited to the United States. South American cities are waking up to the reality that smart planning is about much more than just improving quality of life; it’s about the long-term survival of the cities themselves.

In a piece written for Devex, Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno examines how and why cities like Medellín, Colombia; Rio de Janiero, Brazil; and Mexico City are turning to smart planning solutions to keep their cities running smoothly.

“Today, most Latin American cities face serious challenges that could either condemn them to an irreversible downturn or open opportunities to reinvent themselves. Whether it’s crime, slums, gridlock, trash or property taxes, problems won’t be solved by dealing with them in the traditional, reactive way. Smarter government requires leveraging data, people and processes. And the good news is that some Latin American cities are already doing it.”

Moreno gets it, and so do the municipal planners of the South American cities he describes. Smart planning isn’t just about a better quality of life – it’s about a better chance of survival. But there are challenges and realities that municipalities have to face, and ironically, parochialism knows no boundaries. To wit:

“City planners need to conduct a comprehensive diagnosis of the main challenges they face, including costs and benefits and the institutional hurdles they must overcome to solve them. Municipal governments typically work in silos. Becoming a smart city requires thinking more collaboratively.

“Identifying the right technological solutions is equally important. Technology advances at such a dizzying pace that municipal leaders struggle to keep abreast of the alternatives at their disposal. Since most Latin American and Caribbean cities have very limited capital budgets, leaders must also find creative ways to finance investments in software and hardware.”

In the U.S., limited budgets are preventing all but the largest cities from pursuing smart planning solutions. That’s why it’s more important than ever for our nation’s suburban and rural communities to seek partnerships with their larger neighbors to examine opportunities that benefit both. These partnerships must be formed proactively, as they’re the proverbial ounce of prevention that will keep our metropolitan areas vibrant and successful. If we continue to take a reactive approach to planning, it’ll already have been too late.

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