Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

maslow-hierarchy-needsCity 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?

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Posted by: craig
October 19, 2010
12:57 pm


I don’t have a ready answer, but I can point to a good place to survey. Our Smarter Cities project on Tumblr — — has more than 600 posts on every topic under the more intelligent, urban sun.

Posted by: Jack Mason, IBM Global Business Services
October 18, 2010
7:48 pm

I’m all for progress but I wonder if the will of the people and the will of governments will be able to spur on with such important strategic initiatives. Especially in light of the many woes facing governments and citizens in our hard economic times.

Posted by: David
October 16, 2010
11:30 pm

It is an important question on how to address strategic planning for the future. It is so over-shadowed by present day needs which are already not being met. And with tightened economics, there is never enough money to address today’s needs, let alone what to do about the future (not suggesting it is not important). In addition to pot-holes, there is public transportation infrastructure, road and utilities infrastructures in need of repair/replacement, crime, etc.

Posted by: David
October 1, 2010
11:43 am

Very interesting article.

“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.”

That claim seems reasonable – provided it is qualified with three extra conditions:

* The investment clearly has to be less than the expected benefit (measured over some reasonable timeframe). Otherwise, you’re just engaging in a “make-work” scheme or inventing better ways to destroy wealth… and we have quite enough of those already :-)

* The investment should be on projects that could not be expected to exist save for governmental intervention. e.g. an investment in a nice café for people to hang out in would help some people meet their aspirational needs but it would also crowd out private investment. To the extent that the private operator could have run the outlet more efficiently, you’ve just squandered other people’s money (probably taxpayers’ money). By contrast, investment in tax breaks for entrepreneurs, etc., could be very powerful.

* Finally, to get real effects, I’m pretty sure the investment should be in something that benefits from strong network effects… once you get a cluster of some sort up and running, it acts like a magnet for like-minded people from elsewhere. This ties in to the next comment:

“The cities that are most successful are the ones that attract and retain artists, scientists, and other kinds of innovators. ”

I’m not sure I agree entirely. I think the cities that are most successful are those that have found a way to benefit from barriers to entry/exit in economically important areas.

Think London in Banking, Los Angeles in film-making, etc. It isn’t that these cities are particularly good at attracting and retaining bankers/film-makers… it’s that the sheer concentration of Bankers and film-makers means nowhere else in that part of the world can compete. It’s costly for somebody to leave (barrier to exit) because they lose their network. Similarly, it’s costly for another city to “enter” (because they’d have to work so hard to attract people who are facing a barrier to exit elsewhere!)

Posted by: Richard G Brown
October 1, 2010
6:39 am

Interesting approach. In my dialogs with Cities and City Service Providers, the concept of is a recurrent theme. Maslow is a good informal tool for framing a vision discussion.

But it’s important not to over reify the Maslow analogy …
- It’s not hierarchical (for example, Maslow is ethnocentric as a model)
- It’s not fixed (hard to achieve stable equilibrium of needs versus the time-frames of a City)
- The elements are not disjoint (overlapping needs … not orthogonal axes)
- It’s a theory of Human Development (Sensors don’t aspire to much!)

For example,
Cities-as-Humans have an anthropomorphic vision with a collective self-image that can be positioned on the self-actualisation end of the Maslow hierarchy …. Technology City, City of Culture, Innovative City, Green City etc.

Alternatively, Cities-as-Systems have a real operational need to keep the taps flowing & traffic running …. as well as a myriad of other interconnected systems and services. Operational KPIs for systems at this complexity don’t map naturally across Maslow.

Maslow is good for opening the dialog, and helping to understand what we ‘want’ from the City (at least as humans). Other supporting techniques are needed to sustain the journey to ‘Smarter’.

For example, I’m going to suggest that we use the noun ‘City’ in an ambiguous sense. In a Darwinian vein, fundamentally, a City is a collection of resources (people = resources!) aggregated (maybe virtually) to optimise outcomes (that vary over time).

The ‘Fittest’ Cities are those that adapt well to create stable, optimal solutions over time. Natural selection will favour the fittest cities. The Smarter City has identified their key outcomes … their fitness function …. and put systems and processes in place to manage the optimisation process.

Have a look at the direction taken by … it’s a step to quantifying a manageable range of ‘outcomes’. We can debate is it correct etc. But it appears to me like a natural next step after the Maslow discussion.

One of our ongoing research interests is to to frame the definition of a Smarter City in (hopefully) less ambiguous terms, so we have a framework for expressing the multiple facets of a complex organism like a City. I’m interested in constructive thoughts.

Posted by: Pol Mac Aonghsua
October 1, 2010
5:47 am

The UK Government is focused on ‘Big Society’; the idea that communities do more for themselves, that government is devolved to smaller, local organisations and people who deliver the majority of services.

This seems to me like a natural extension of the Smarter Cities agenda and the opportunity that is being created.

Do we need to form a bridge here to point out how Smarter Cities can deliver Big Society?

Posted by: Paul Streeter
September 30, 2010
10:40 pm

I’m not so sure about Richard Florida’s theories on attracting a Creative Class – and I’m the demographic he’s talking about!

In mid-size cities like Leeds in the UK, contriving a creative quarter and populating it with imported residents hasn’t taken worked. Though a great physical environment has been developed it’s created new socio-economic barriers and certainly not deepened creativity.

The vibrant, tumultuous music, arts and tech scenes native to the city simply see this alien elite as disconnected from the roots and realities of the city. The opportunities to encounter and collide the disparate voices necessary for a strong creative class can’t be transplanted, but need to be nurtured and grown from within a city.

A civic leadership can make lightweight interventions that assist with “cultural engineering” – opening up empty spaces, encouraging playful activities, supporting and connecting festivals and events from different industries.

Such a new generation of Enabling Services is about ‘letting a thousand flowers bloom’ rather than imposing a centrally masterplanned vision of the future. Indeed, analagous to software platform providers – create APIs to the city, such that anyone can construct their ‘civic application’ upon it.

Posted by: Imran Ali
September 30, 2010
12:18 pm

Within the UK, we are beginning to see recongition at a city level that (a) having a compelling, engaging and differentiating vision is really important and (b) the importance of engaging with citizens and communities in shaping this vision.

Common sense, you might say. Maybe. At our recent Cities Business Summit at START involving a range of city leaders ande influencers across all sectors, when asked the question “What is the major force preventing change in UK Cities today?” 76% of the audience voted for “lack of joined-up leadership and vision” while only 15% voted for lack of available funding. The need for more effective collaboration was also highlighted time and time again at the Summit.

So, the more ways in which we can help cities understand how to create such a vision, the better.

Part of this might be to use a framework as illustrated in the hierarchy above to understand current areas of spend / focus and to help cities debate whether the balance between “fixing problems” and “creating a brighter future” is right.

(a) agreed the importance of such a vision and started to work on it, addressing the balance between the different layers of the triangle;
(b) engaged with citizens and communities as part of the development of this vision

there then comes a point pretty soon that the vision needs to be validated and translated into a programme of city-wide change. Otherwise it just sits there as a piece of aspirational shelfware. And citizens and communities will rapidly lose faith – no more influx of innovators and creative people.

In times of economic pressure and public sector spending cuts, “taking a punt” as to what you should do as a city leader or relying on HIPPO (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion) are risky strategies. I believe the availability of objective and meaningul information on all the components of a city is becoming increasingly important to drive forward right-first-time investment decisions. Advanced analytics therefore has a key role to play in validating a city vision as well as deployment of “smarter solutions” in areas such as transport, healthcare, public safety and education.

Aside from the role of analytics, the other interesting debate that this diagram can lead to is what constitutes real value across a city. The hierarchy is a reminder that if you focus too much on reducing expenditure or generating investment, you can quickly lose sight of the fact that cities are about people, and whilst money of course helps with e.g. tackling deprivation, the opportunity to move into the upper layers of the hierarchy – and for people to thrive – is not resolved by ££ alone.

Posted by: Frank Beck
September 30, 2010
3:46 am

Within IBM, we have our team and method for benchmarking a city or region against its competitiveness and ability to attract inward investment. It is provided by Plant Location International (PLI), part of GBS and based in Brussels and New York. It is headed by Roel Spee and I will forward this discussion to him and ask for a response. It covers the areas of the quality of living environment, the availability of real estate, the quality of local infrastructure and cmmunications, te flexibility of local labour and regulations, the presence of a cluster of the industry bing attracted, the potential to recruit local skilled staff and the general business environment. I have used this framework here in the UK and it hasresonated with clients. Roel has extended it to include Smarter City benchmarking.

Posted by: Patrick Smith
September 29, 2010
8:16 pm

Steve- Interesting questions.

Michael Porter wrote a book on the “Competitive Advantage of Nations” that sits on my shelf. I think I should pick it up again because I think — just like natural resources a source of wealth and inspiration for prior generations — new generations and economies will be built around aggregations of skills; aggregations of those creative class knowledge workers who are seeking their own fulfillment. We see this in the technopolis and familiar corridors of the nation… It most certainly won’t be limited to the US.

In that light, city leaders ought to be asking the types of people they want to attract what their expectations are for the city they live in. A greater number of the most productive workers in society are mobile, achieving higher orders of actualization on the hierarchy of needs. City leaders can start by identifying what helps individuals “stick” to their culture and ultimately decide to engage in ways that support communities in addition to simply supporting the tax base.

If I can speculate ;-) for a moment, I believe the US “Tea Party” movement in some ways is a reflection of this on a more national political scale (i.e. – government should address the needs I have vs. a perceived agenda). A means for government leaders to understanding and reflecting the needs of people would help, which I think is some of the idea behind e-government. Contrast the ease of checking your bank balance with your capability in providing your opinion and vote to elected officials. There are many, many opportunities for innovation here.

Posted by: Peter Bradford
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