Dentons Smart Cities: Community Engagement in Smart City Planning



[co-author: Sheri Givens]

Smart cities have the ability to connect all infrastructure—electric, gas, water, communications and transportation. Smart city initiatives may empower consumers to make more thoughtful energy choices. Such choices may offer them energy use and bill management insights, allowing them to prioritize their personal or business goals as they relate to energy efficiency, usage and savings. These initiatives may also give communities tools to improve health, safety and transportation, and to address a host of other particular challenges in their local area.

Building broad community support for a smart cities/communities program is a complex process that requires significant outreach to and collaboration with a community. Communicating specific, tangible benefits of smart technologies, along with being transparent about the costs and investments necessary, must be done early and often in plain, easy-to-understand language. This is crucial to obtaining buy-in for any smart city initiative. 

Within a smart city, “innovation” neighborhoods, zones, wards or districts may allow for piloting and testing of pioneering offerings. Such pilot programs may confirm—or repudiate—consumer openness and interest in new products and services. Engaging in comprehensive community involvement is key. Creating buzz and excitement about such innovations could incentivize areas within a city to actively compete to be selected. Emphasizing the ability to customize technologies to a community’s needs, sharing the benefits technologies may bring to communities and educating consumers in the necessary and appropriate forums provide the basis for this engagement pillar.

Consumer/community customization: Smart city technologies can provide for personalized customer offerings based on local demographics, needs, challenges and lifestyles. These offerings can target the consumer’s and community’s motivation, whether it is clean energy, cost savings, health, safety or another factor. Numerous advancements in technology, website functionality, text messaging and apps can connect consumers in real time to their electricity providers; numerous new product offerings and rate plans take advantage of these new technologies. Customization may create online and application resources that grant communities and consumers access from smart phones, tablets and computers, giving them visibility into their energy usage, enabling them to better manage usage and providing them with insights into utility and third-party offerings. For communities, smart city technology customization may bring health, safety, transportation, connectivity and other benefits to their residents and businesses.

Consumer/community benefits: Examples of smart city technologies bringing societal benefits to consumers may include:


  • Intelligent hospitals and medical devices, connected ambulances, telehealth services, chatbots, digital health portals and remote monitoring devices
  • Elderly monitoring sensors that notify family members and caregivers of seniors' movements, alerting them via text in the event of abnormally long inactivity
  • Pollution reduction technologies
  • Smart power, gas and water management, allowing for detection of outages and leakages
  • Smart waste receptacles with automatic compactors alerting collectors when full to address sanitation challenges
  • Predictive analytics to control rodent or pest populations


  • Smarter policing and emergency response enabling tools
  • Smart crime prediction technologies and gunshot sensors, allowing for emergency service vehicle prioritization
  • Data analytics, wireless and smart video surveillance to detect criminal activity, strengthen crime-fighting and ensure public safety
  • Smart street lighting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs while increasing operating efficiency
  • Natural disaster detection sensors assisting in emergency management or consumer notification about dangerous conditions


  • Intelligent highways, digital signage and automated car systems
  • Smart transportation initiatives, including smart traffic systems and sensors, traffic flow optimization and predictive tools, road hazard detectors, traffic cameras, traffic lights and parking to address traffic congestion
  • Multi-modal transportation and autonomous vehicles to address urban mobility challenges
  • Infrastructure sensors helping with deicing, fracture and vibration signaling
  • Electric vehicle fast-charger stations

Consumer/community education: Going into the community and engaging with customers about customization options and potential benefits is vital to any smart city initiative. Town halls, neighborhood meetings, city events, county fairs, mobile education units and other in-person opportunities may prove valuable in gathering insights into what citizens see as their community's greatest challenges and opportunities. Meeting with the community leaders, city and county lawmakers, law enforcement, transportation agencies, health care providers, utilities, regulators, industry representatives and other stakeholders will provide for valuable input about smart city initiatives, technologies and actions people, businesses and social service providers want to see in their areas. 

It is essential to provide transparent, straightforward information to consumers seeking an understanding of the value, and cost, such initiatives can bring to them personally and to their community collectively. This transformation of the customer and community relationship will require frequent in-person discussions to move consumers away from the historical thinking of electricity as a commodity, or something that is always there when they need or want it. Educational initiatives will help communities both understand and articulate all that they might be able to achieve with evolving smart city technologies.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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