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How Smart Communities Will Work

What makes a community so smart?

Although there's no set definition of a smart community yet, there are lots of potential attributes. Of course, technology plays a huge part. Smart communities have strong networks in place that link government services both to each other and to outside entities, making them more accessible and user-friendly. For example, they may link different law-enforcement entities to each other as well as to national databases.

Smart communities have broadband connectivity that's readily available and affordable for its residents, usually with some type of government involvement. For example, the local government in a smart community might subsidize improvements to an existing network (like laying fiber optic cables so that everybody can have broadband) in places where they wouldn't otherwise have an incentive to do so. Just having the connectivity available isn't enough. They may provide free or subsidized hardware, software and broadband for those who can't afford it. There might also be WiFi access in public spaces.

The final component -- which many communities neglect -- is education. Smart communities have programs to increase computer and Web skills in people of all ages and backgrounds, including those who are illiterate. Often, this means working with community leaders to figure out the best way to make the Internet relevant and useful for everybody.

Education in general is incredibly important for a successful smart community, but it's also about increasing what economists call "human capital." Sure, having a lot of inherently intelligent people makes a difference but so does having people who possess highly marketable skills in knowledge-based (meaning not manual-labor) jobs. Smart communities have plans in place to attract and groom these kinds of people, including improving the existing public-education system and providing secondary- and continuing-education opportunities.

Smart communities work to foster innovation and creativity. They may have programs and capital available to encourage start-up businesses and policies that make the area an attractive place to set up shop and find workers with necessary skills. There's a way for residents to actively participate in governance and strong leadership from both the government and the community. Some smart communities incorporate an environmental component, striving to make the community greener and more sustainable. They also market their community effectively and have a task force to work on plans and strategies.

This is really a sort of wish list of features that might qualify a community as smart, and no one community will do all of them equally well. Some of them are currently doing a great job with one or more attributes, however, and their statistics might surprise you.