City leaders are typically re-elected based on how well they fulfill basic needs such as making the buses run on time and fighting crime. So how do you get them to pay attention to long-term strategic considerations–especially at a time of economic hardship? That’s a challenge advocates of progress face as they try to convince leaders that strategic investments in the future will help their communities become or remain healthy over the long haul.
At IBM, we believe that taking advantage of advances in instrumentation, interconnectivity, and data analytics is an essential element of any city vitalization plan. One of the IBMers who is wrestling with the priority-setting issue is Rashik Parmar, an IBM distinguished engineer who heads up an initiative aimed at making Smarter Cities projects appealing to government leaders. He and some his colleagues, including distinguished engineer Colin Harrison and corporate strategist Martin Fleming, find that Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs (graphic above) is a good thinking aid.
Parmar points out that there are three drivers of action in communities that line up pretty well with the elements of Mazlov’s hierarchy. Issues: Fundamental things like crime and transportation that determine the livability of a city correspond with levels one and two. Investment: Government, non-profit, or commercial investments that build and maintain infrastructure line up with levels three and four. Inspiration: The creation of a unifying, shared vision that defines the path to a “better place” corresponds to level five–peak experiences.
The winning argument in favor of strategic investments comes when you can point to long-term improvements in livability that result in part from fulfilling aspirational needs. Academic Richard Florida in his Creative Class writings makes the argument in a general sense: The cities that are most successful are the ones that attract and retain artists, scientists, and other kinds of innovators. Can anybody point to strong data proof points in your city that back up this argument? If so, please weigh in.
I was struck today by a Thomas Friedman’s column today in the New York Times. He’s writing about the Tea Party and it’s angry demands for less government and lower taxes. I don’t want to get into the politics of the column, but one of his observations about what he sees as a necessity for the United States also applies to cities. He calls for a plan to revitalize the nation:
“To me, that is a plan that starts by asking: what is America’s core competency and strategic advantage, and how do we nurture it? Answer: It is our ability to attract, develop and unleash creative talent. That means men and women who invent, build and sell more goods and services that make people’s lives more productive, healthy, comfortable, secure and entertained than any other country.”
To me, these are the questions that city leaders ought to be asking themselves, as well. I believe that the bold and smart ones among them will make the plans and investments now that will pay off a decade from now, and pay dividends for many years into the future.
But, easy for me to say…
What do you think? How do city leaders go about asking the right questions? How do they find ways way to make the plans and investments that will result in Smarter Cities?