The key challenges city leaders face today

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Sandra Baer, President, Personal Cities recently joined the board of CIVIQ Smartscapes. We talked to Sandra about how cities and companies are finding new ways to work together, to act faster and to implement solutions that put people first. The truly smart city leverages technology to solve problems that people face every day and to help every citizen adapt to the pace of change in our digital world.

CIVIQ: What are the key challenges city leaders face today and how are they solving them? 

SB: There is a long list of important issues that almost every city needs to address.  In my recent conversations with city leaders, four needs rise to the top:

      Economic Development & Business Growth—Revenue Generation & Job Creation

      Safety & Security—Physical security, Cybersecurity & Privacy

      Transportation & Mobility—of Freight, Goods & People

      Social Inclusion & Access—Diversity & Equity

As city leaders around the world continue to commit to smart city goals to meet economic, safety, social and environmental challenges, there is a growing opportunity to think bigger—to consider the interdependent problems facing the city and act holistically to solve them.

As centers of innovation, smart cities are increasingly collaborative, bringing the entire ecosystem of stakeholders together. The new breed of smart city leaders is working to transform the system, to set a new direction and inspire action that unifies city operations and expands city services.  

CIVIQ: What should companies keep in mind when working with cities to help them become smarter?

SB: Companies should realize they can be a champion for a new approach to collaboration as they work with cities. They can help to guide a city’s strategic thinking, help them to see the big picture and demonstrate how to invest in technology for the right reasons.

I recommend that companies, big or small, join up with partners to think holistically on a city’s behalf. A city’s problems are intertwined, i.e. public safety is connected to transportation is connected to energy is connected to economic development…and ultimately citizen engagement and satisfaction.  Insightful companies are selling more than a solution; they are solving many interdependent problems and working with a city to invest in its future.

CIVIQ: You have said every community needs to be competitive, connected, collaborative and secure. Can you tell us a little more on that?

SB: These ideas are driven by globalization; in turn, globalization is driving a new way of operating, thinking, and living. Here is my latest list. Every city must:


·        Strengthen the city’s economy by “finding” money, make the city a more attractive place to live and work to bring in new businesses and high quality talent.

·        Generate revenue by identifying new sources of revenue for the city; help people explore a city by finding retail shops, city services, transportation options, events and more.

·        Be a job creation hub as a source of education, workforce training and useful communication about job opportunities. Smart cities know how to spark growth and ignite new business innovation.


Cities must create new ways of engagement, improve social inclusion, and provide interactive, two-way communication with citizens to gain feedback and give everyone a “voice.” They must make city services accessible and always be mindful of the end goal of a smart city—to improve the quality of life. 


By understanding the community’s identity and sense of place, cities can become more welcoming—promoting tourism, providing wayfinding, keeping people informed about transit schedules, events, gatherings and services. Cities can be models of engagement that engender a spirit of cooperation, collaboration and access.

Become safe and secure.

It is universally true that if a city is not safe, it is not smart. Today, however, the concept of public safety and security is expanding. The ability to protect the community, a highly visible metric, includes physical safety—from community-based policing to town halls to body cameras. A city’s vulnerability in the digital world is even more daunting, so city leaders have the responsibility to keep the city and its citizens protected and informed.

CIVIQ: While the challenges are big and always changing, the approach to solving problems is pretty straightforward, right?

Yes, if companies and cities can build a trusting relationship, they can all:

(1)    Think big on behalf of the city—endeavor to solve many problems around economic growth, funding, city operations, politics, technology, and people

(2)    Align, collaborate and include—get excited, work together, find partners, create new partnerships

(3)    Connect—to people, to culture, to networks, to money, to your big ideas

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