Sadly, cities often frame their infrastructure needs independently. How cities prescribe and procure solutions is, frankly, anachronistic. It leaves the cities (and other participants in the “urban ecosystem”) at a significant disadvantage, at a time when we need each other the most.
Consider what’s happening with water treatment. There are approximately 30,000 of these systems in the USA. Let’s assume we want to make these water treatment systems become “smarter”. There’s currently no standard to determine what “smarter” means. This makes it hard to know if a water system is technologically in Kindergarten or if it has a Master’s degree. If a particular water system is second grade, it’s unclear if that system needs a high school education or a doctorate to accomplish the long-term goals. How to procure the solutions needed to increase “smartness”?
Solving this problem requires a formal “requirements framework” which outlines the needs for each major infrastructure segment (water, mobility, buildings, energy). And then imagine that this “requirements framework” was jointly agreed and developed by a critical mass of key public and private constituents. The framework would, ideally, recognize the variance in the maturity/capability of different urban infrastructures. The framework would take into account the fact that different maturity/capability levels are needed in order to reach city goals.
In addition to the framework, a useful measurement system would help to verify and iterate progress. Many of the KPI’s used today to measure city sustainability address the results derived from sustainable practices (i.e. air and water quality). Once a common standard is in place it becomes possible to augment these measures. The goal is to improve the technological maturity of each urban infrastructure system (e.g., water, rail, energy). Technology is a key driver that determines how fast and how far a city will get on the road toward achieving sustainability. There are additional drivers, of course. Two of the important ones are fiscal feasibility and the political will to change.