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How to Make Smart Cities Equitable

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Amanda L McGimpsey
May 13, 2019

The age of automation and the dawn of Smart Cities is inevitable. It is the responsibility of city leaders to find ways for society to adapt in a fair and equitable manner. Most people think of automation—factories come to mind. But as more smart technology is adopted this automation will also become prevalent in the public sector. It will introduce new levels of efficiency and help improve the lives of our citizens. However, it will also result in a loss of low-education jobs. It is important for our leaders to prepare for these changes to help our cities transition.

To begin, it’s important to note the benefits of using new technology in our cities and why it should be embraced rather than discouraged. From monitoring air quality, streamlining traffic congestion and optimizing trash collection, embracing technology can help our cities become more efficient and improve citizens’ health and happiness.

Can’t find a parking spot? Smart sensors could direct you to the nearest available spot. Hate the wait at the DMV? Blockchain technology could help streamline the document approval process. Worried about safety? Street-lights could monitor for sounds of gun shots so police can arrive more quickly.

But smart technology can also come at the cost of low-education jobs. Beginning in 2019, Helsinki will begin testing an autonomous bus. In the near future, it is conceivable that there could be a fleet of autonomous buses with only a single human operator monitoring them remotely. While this would have huge cost savings for the city, it also has the potential to wipe out the workforce of a single industry overnight. Similar scenarios could occur with autonomous garbage trucks and the Uber and Lyft industry. Any industry that employs low-education jobs could be subject to a similar scenario.

In light of the job loss threat, some cities may try to slow technology adoption in the public sector. However, this response is not sustainable and will ultimately hurt their economy. Regardless of whether a city decides to adopt new technology, the private sector will continue to do so and it will likely still result in job loss across the economy. In addition, the private sector will be drawn to cities that embrace new technology. As the job market becomes more tech-based, job seekers will begin to migrate to cities that have adopted that technology.

Therefore, it is in the city’s best interest to embrace new technology while simultaneously developing programs that can help prepare the workforce for the transition. The process of developing this framework is just beginning in many forward-thinking cities in the world. The National League of Cities (NLC) recently produced A Future of Work in Cities report. The report recommends city leaders focus on creating new educational opportunities and social safety nets, and also that leaders support entrepreneurship. The report represents the considerable efforts in thought-leadership that are at work across the nation. Several of their recommendations are explored in the remainder of the article.

As more low-education jobs are automated, it will become increasingly important for cities to invest in the education of their citizens. NLC recommends that education should focus on developing soft skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. These soft skills offer training that automation cannot duplicate and will help the workforce to become more adaptable to the rapid rate of technological change. In addition to investing in education for young persons it is also important to provide training programs for older populations that may become technologically displaced.

To prepare for the anticipated upheaval of industries, NLC recommends that cities develop social safety nets to help during the transition. Cities should consider policies that strengthen unemployment benefits to help workers displaced by automation. Basic income programs and raising the minimum wage may help ensure that citizens have more stability during the transition. In addition, NLC recommends supporting portable benefit systems to allow for easier movement between jobs and provide a benefits safety net.

City leadership should encourage innovation through entrepreneurship—not only as a way to empower their citizens but also as a way to encourage economic development in their cities. NLC recommends that leaders support policies making it easier to innovate and start businesses, including reducing red tape when applying for a business license and reducing the number of occupational licenses needed. In addition, cities should encourage equity by supporting programs for minority and female small business owners.

The next decade will see immense change in our cities. Our municipal leaders will be at the forefront of both the challenges and the benefits attached to this new economy. Cities must embrace and prepare for the rapid pace of technological change to ensure that the new economy is fair and equitable for all.

Author: Amanda L McGimpsey is a community outreach specialist focused on creating partnerships to solve social issues. She is currently pursuing an MPA from San Diego State University. With a decade of experience working in the field of higher education she has an interest in reexamining complex social issues to promote social equity. [email protected]





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