The Balancing Act of Creating a Sustainable Community

When most people think about transforming government, their mind goes straight to the federal level and larger agencies. Although change certainly happens at the federal level, citizens will feel the most impact at the state and local levels, especially in their cities.

Citizens’ growing expectations for more efficient and effective government services, are driving agencies to explore new ways to boost sustainability. In Southern California, The Foundation for Sustainable Communities is working with IBM to create a platform of consolidated views and leveraged data for a smarter local government.

During GovLoop’s recent online training, Transforming Local Governments — One View, One Government, One Response, Deborah Hagar, President of The Foundation for Sustainable Communities and Nick Intintolo, Public Sector Client Advisor at IBM explained how San Bernadino, California has taken steps to become a smarter, more sustainable government.

In order to fully implement sustainable techniques at your agency, it’s important to first understand what makes communities sustainable and smart. For starters, sustainable communities are focused on environmental, economic, and social good. They must also:

  • Have the ability to produce job creation and economic growth
  • Generate revenues for both public infrastructure, as well as prosperity for private enterprise
  • Encourage and foster regional collaboration within infrastructures and economic corridors
  • Be able to support environmentally friendly change.
  • Balance progress with social justice to help gain community support for sustainability projects.

Working closely with IBM, Hager was able to bring all of these characteristics to her own community in Southern California. By viewing technology as a critical resource, organizing the city around a coherent vision, and building on the already-existing empire, San Bernadino was able to build a platform for a smarter local government. Here’s some tips from Hager and Intintolo on how you can start implementing a smarter cities strategy at your local agency:

Analytics are out there. One of the most important tools for smarter cities is data analytics. Hager knew that she could be making better use of data analytics, which was one reason she reached out to IBM. IBM stressed that analytics can turn data into insights, and then insights into actions for better citizen services. By using the IBM “smarter cities” platform, Hager was able to make better decisions for city planning, such as traffic control, and build capability more efficiently. Data analytics allows cities to solve problems more holistically and should be used more often.

Unite over a common goal. By bringing in small businesses, public and private sector stakeholders, and a wide array of citizens, Hager was able to rally a team around a common goal and mission: to build a more sustainable community. Intintolo emphasized that IBM’s technology proves that value and information can be shared to help communities solve growing problems with shrinking budgets. By forming a group that has the same vision and agrees that technology could be better used, a sustainable community isn’t far off.

Don’t change too much. Hager recognized that the city was already in possession of great resources, businesses, and citizens who were ready and willing to help make a change. By building on the city’s existing infrastructure and supporting existing businesses, the city’s economy began to grow. This attracted new businesses and enhanced the city’s economy overall. “Cities are fingers in the economy and are consistent throughout,” Hager said. Take advantage of what your city already has to offer, and don’t forget that no one or nothing is too small to make a difference.

Don’t get too bogged down by the ways of the past, but don’t try to start all over when implementing a sustainable mindset in your community. It really is all about balance and using the tools that are out there to improve your city’s capabilities.



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