The Smart Cities Connect spring conference for 2022 was held in Columbus, OH this week. Getting to the conference required near-Herculean efforts on my part, but I was greatly rewarded once I finally made it to the event. I’ve been fortunate over the past six years to attend numerous Smart Cities Connect events and this one did not disappoint. I am consistently impressed with the quality of content and level of intention that everyone brings with them. This conference doesn’t just provide an opportunity to learn the latest and greatest in smart cities, but provides a deep sense of community as well. Experts from across industries, cities, universities, nonprofits and startups get together twice a year to mindshare and spend time authentically connecting as people and professionals.

There are so many brilliant people doing fascinating, meaningful work across the country to empower cities through technology as well as economic and organizational models. These efforts have allowed for cities to identify, pilot, and implement smart city solutions with equity and resilience in mind.

Surprisingly, too, this year there was a new facet to the smart city conversation: smart energy infrastructure and its role in driving sustainability, equity, and resilience. As both a smart city and an energy nerd, this really struck a chord with me. There were discussions on microgrids, infrastructure needs, equity initiatives, ESG goals and measurement, and more.

It’s wonderful to see this intersection occur and makes me hopeful that there’s more to come.

Top 5 Takeaways

  • Cities are moving beyond analysis paralysis, but many are getting stuck in pilot purgatory. It’s imperative that cities find ways to take their pilots to scale or risk losing momentum and buy in.
  • Building communities of trust that protect residents and enable innovation is critical, but challenging. Trust takes time and is easily damaged. Stakeholders need to meet people where they are, be intentional and consistent, and have privacy top of mind.
  • Startups are great drivers for economic development and excellent additions to the smart city ecosystem. But moving beyond initial pilots to scaled solutions can be difficult with a younger company. Cities need to find ways to engage with these innovators in ways that foster innovation at scale.
  • We can’t have smart cities without smart utilities. More and more utilities are taking on smart city projects for their community and driving innovation.
  • Community, equity, infrastructure, and resilience are the drumbeats in smart cities work in 2022.

The last couple of years, it has felt as if we were in a response-mindset, rebounding from COVID-19, reprioritizing projects and budgets, and now it seems we have turned a corner and have re-entered a more forward-thinking approach. It’s a relief and feels almost as if we have normalized. Whatever the weather and hurdles in travel, I look forward to the fall conference and hope to see you all there.