Collaborative transformation: 2 visionary cities lead the way

When we rolled out our global CityNext initiative in July, we named a handful of showcase cities, from Auckland to Zhengzhou, that have a running start on their journey toward modernization and optimization.

In visiting many of these cities, I’ve gotten to see firsthand the tremendous potential they’re unleashing by putting data and technology to work in really interesting new ways. Each, in its own way, demonstrates visionary leadership in gearing up for the future.
And all of them, I think, share an optimistic, can-do approach to tackling current challenges and embracing new opportunities. To build more vibrant, safe, sustainable places to live, visionary cities:
  • Adopt and apply best practices from everywhere
  • Find synergies in public-private partnerships
  • Harness the creative energy of citizens and the entrepreneurial spirit of businesses and innovators
  • Open up new channels for communication and collaboration
Here are two cities that are already seeing benefits from these strategies:
Moving people in Manchester
One of our showcase cities, Greater Manchester, is one of the UK’s fastest-growing metro areas. The place is really booming, which is why city managers started looking for ways to help people get around more efficiently. The transportation department studied how other cities had deployed mobile apps to simplify route planning and make it easy for commuters and visitors to get real-time public transit schedules, traffic updates, and more. But they didn’t have the budget to develop their own apps.
So last fall, the department teamed with local Microsoft partner Black Marble to develop a Real-Time Open Data Information System, using Windows Azure to host the region’s transport data and make it freely available. By spring, more than 100 independent developers had jumped in, inventing a batch of cool new apps tailored to Manchester’s needs. It’s a perfect example of “doing new with less,” improving public services by harnessing people’s imagination.
Saving watts in Seattle
My home base, Seattle, is another hotbed of visionary thinking. Recently the city launched an exciting new public-private collaboration aimed at meeting the region’s skyrocketing energy appetite through conservation, rather than by building more power plants.
The project teams up Seattle City Light, local nonprofit Seattle 2030 District, Microsoft, and Microsoft partner Accenture. The initial goal is to trim electricity consumption by 25 percent in five commercial buildings—and ultimately cut downtown energy use in half by 2030. That’s huge.
To achieve that, Accenture’s Smart Building solution leverages Windows Azure for storing terabytes of energy data gathered from the buildings’ lighting, electrical, and HVAC monitoring sensors. Microsoft SQL Server 2012 processes this data for real-time analysis, while a SharePoint Server 2013 reporting portal enables building managers to monitor and fine-tune energy use for maximum efficiency and big savings.
Communication: key to a bright future
Cities that want to transform—to move beyond their current capabilities—don’t do it accidentally. There has to be forward-looking leadership from the top, and a trait I’ve found that leaders of visionary cities have in common is that they’re involved and engaged with their peers. Often, this involvement is through some sort of consortium, like the National League of Cities (NLC) or the International City/County Management Association, organizations where cities can share ideas and compare what does and doesn’t work.
Speaking of that, the NLC’s annual Congress of Cities and Exposition, coming up this November in Seattle, is a great forum for collaboration and knowledge-building. I’ll be there, and I hope to see you, too.
Call me an optimist, but I think the future for cities is brighter than ever. What do you think? Pull me aside at the NLC Congress or leave a comment here. I’d love to hear your visionary ideas for the future.
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