Silicon Valley has long been the place where dreams have been made. Tucked neatly in the Bay area of California, the Valley thrives on innovation and houses the familiar tech giants Google, Linkedin, Microsoft and Apple as well as thousands of nimble start-ups yet to make their mark. It is a place where entrepreneurs, academics and students from the pioneering Stanford University work side by side with the private sector creating a world class innovation ecosystem.
It was fitting that the Valley was the next destination for urban leaders on the 2017 International Exchange - Smart Cities. After discussions and debates with Microsoft's Civic Tech and Engagement team, Palo Alto's City Hall and Stanford’s Global Project Centre's Digital Cities Program the key takeout was that a smart city is where technology is used to solve genuine problems facing citizens. Each organisation we met cautioned against the shiny blue light, instead reinforcing a focus on what matters most to your city.
Microsoft recognises this imperative and has recently undergone a shift to become a company that uses technology to achieve social impact. Partnering with not-for-profits, community organisations and cities, they have adopted a ‘technology for public good’ approach to enhance pedestrian safety, improve public access to data and clean up graffiti. They advocate for empowering citizens and for building cities with users rather than for users.
At Palo Alto City Hall, Dr Jonathan Reichental, Chief Innovation Officer, and City Manager Jim Keene have long believed that “cities are the locations for solutions in the world", focusing their efforts on improving mobility, mitigating the impact of climate change and changing how services are delivered. They have had an open data portal for over three years and through the grass roots Cool Block program are empowering local communities to enhance the liveability of their neighbourhood.
Down the street at Stanford’s Global Project Centre's Digital Cities Program the significant challenge for local government to keep up with the rapid acceleration of innovation in technology was highlighted. To deliver solutions for their communities, cities need to foster a culture of innovation, be an active participant in the innovation market and identify 3-4 key problems that need to be solved. To achieve this Michael Steep and Professor Raymond Levitt consider the appointment of a City Chief Technology Officer as a critical first step in what they see as the digital cities journey.
As the day ended, ghosts and goolies, spiders and scary things appeared in the streets as moms and dad, kids and cops began that old American tradition of trick and treating for yet another Halloween.
Tomorrow the delegation venture to San Jose to learn more about the govenment's innovation road map as well as join one of the largest local gatherings, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group's Annual Luncheon and a discussion with leading civic planning organisation SPUR. Stay tuned.