Leading companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook are changing the way society interacts. What if city planners could do the same thing?
With technology, they can. With technology, city planners can drive smarter and more responsive urban infrastructure that meets the increasingly complex needs of their populations today – and in the future. But technology alone does not solve problems. Changing the way society interacts also requires the right people and processes to influence the technology. To successfully plan urban infrastructure, cities are missing four key ingredients:

1. Leadership through a deep understanding of citizen's needs

To align citizens’ appetites for social consciousness, innovation, choice, and convenience, a city’s leadership must acknowledge a deeper understanding of its citizenry is a prerequisite to developing meaningful urban energy infrastructure. To attain that deeper understanding, cities can expand and leverage their databases and listening posts (e.g., town hall meetings, citizen outreach events, Facebook surveys) so citizen infrastructure needs can be identified and addressed. Regardless of stakeholder ownership and boundaries, it’s all one experience to the citizen.

2. Collaboration with sometimes-unusual players

Political processes favor the outspoken—complex urban energy infrastructure, however, requires effective and open discussions among majority and minority stakeholders. Cities can facilitate that collaboration. For instance, one way to plan for urban vehicle charging stations is to create an online community of city planners, electric utilities, electric vehicle experts, and citizens who can provide real-time feedback to the planning process. This approach aggregates and analyzes a wide-range of inputs and offers efficient collaboration mechanisms.

3. Activate a market of third-party innovators

Providing third parties the opportunity to learn about and propose responsive solutions to city opportunities ensures citizens enjoy innovative solutions to smart urban infrastructure and at lower costs. Through an open, digital solicitation portal, city planners can actively communicate urban infrastructure opportunities to third parties, who can submit ideas for consideration. This allows cities and third parties to forge meaningful partnerships that are critical to developing, improving, and implementing innovative and cost-effective infrastructure solutions for citizens. 

4. Allow access to meaningful information

Identifying, compiling, and enabling access to key data information is an important capability to ensuring cities and third parties produce smart solutions to urban infrastructure needs. For example, by combining city traffic data with anonymized citizen data and electric utility distribution system data, users can identify optimum locations throughout the city to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure that meet the needs of citizens, cities, and electric system planners. Similarly, numerous other data compilations can lead to similar win-win scenarios for stakeholder groups across the city.

Cities play a critical role in the way people live their lives. There’s an important cultural shift to urban planning that cities must take to empower the needs of their evolving citizens.  By developing a deeper understanding of its citizenry, and through collaboration and sharing with new partners, cities can develop urban infrastructure that empowers the needs of its evolving citizens and drive successful economies.