Innovation in Planning Through New Smart Cities Legislation

The focus of National Community Planning Month 2017 is innovation in planning. With the start of the month-long celebration of planning, there is new federal legislation aimed at spurring the development of smart cities technology.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) introduced the Smart Cities and Communities Act earlier this week.

The bill authorizes $220 million annually for five years to support the work of cities in using and deploying smart cities tools. In addition to providing resources to local governments, the measure also aims to improve federal coordination of smart city programs, boost workforce development in the sector, and increase international collaboration.

Washington’s interest in smart cities issue isn’t entirely new. During the Obama administration, the Department of Transportation ran a $40 million "smart cities challenge." According to DOT officials, the competition leveraged an additional $350 million in public and private funding for smart cities. The National Science Foundation also launched a Smart and Connected Communities initiative to support research and development efforts.

Although some elements of the 2009 Obama stimulus package supported some smart cities work, Congress has stayed largely on the sidelines of the movement until now.

On introducing the bill Sen. Cantwell said, “The bill makes technology accessible to local governments so they can make smart investments that attract businesses, create jobs, and improve critical infrastructure while boosting services, livability, and the health of residents.”

“The chance to build smart communities in every corner of America should be something we can all agree on,” said Rep. DelBene.

Much like the bipartisan interest in autonomous vehicle technology, smart cities issues have typically found bipartisan support. Still, the legislative road ahead for any new federal program will be challenging.

Should an infrastructure package emerge, that may provide a vehicle for advancing the issue. In the meantime, the new legislation offers a useful platform for furthering discussion on Capitol Hill around how to support the growth of smart cities and technology-led innovation in planning.

Top image: Detail from project by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign L.E.A.P. team members who won APA’s inaugural Smart Cities Student Design Competition.

About the Author
Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy.

October 3, 2017

By Jason Jordan