To their credit, lots of city leaders concerned about the future livability of their communities have been taking to heart the old wisdom about “thinking globally, acting locally.”
In places like Europe, where the EU has established long-range sustainability goals, some cities have already gone well above and beyond such efforts, aiming to set new standards in everything from flood defenses (say, amphibious houses in the flood-prone Netherlands) to sensor technology (see the SmartSantander project in Spain). Even in countries where national politicians seem hellbent on running in place — if not actually moving backward — to protect the status quo, some city officials (in places like Chicago, New York and Greensburg, Kansas) see the sense in adapting to change and planning for a better future.
Still, in these early days of working to build smarter, more adaptable and resilient cities, it’s important to remember that — in the long run — it won’t be enough to change just in isolated pockets dotted around the world. To keep ticking along, cities depend on functioning agriculture in outlying regions, goods and materials imported from far-flung regions, and external markets for their home-grown products and services.
In other words, no city ultimately can be smart on its own. It will need smart neighbors and partners — urban and rural — to survive and thrive.
So it’s encouraging actions like IBM’s recent decision to extend its Smarter Cities Challenge to regional governments.
Over the past three years, the Smarter Cities Challenge has singled out 100 cities around the world for special consultations designed to help community leaders plan for the future through a variety of initiatives … everything from entrepreneur training for the digital age to zero-carbon energy development. Such efforts need to not only be encouraged to continue, but continually broadened with the goal of one day building smart counties, smart states and, ultimately, smart countries.