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Public Private Partnerships (P3s) in Cities

Reading Erik Larson’s book “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America,” I was fascinated by how a determined group of business people and citizens in a few short years funded, designed and built the Columbian Exposition for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Designed by John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham and Frederick Olmsted, based on what they thought a city should be, the World’s Columbian Exposition influenced architecture, style, and smart cities during the industrial age.

Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago, Illinois)
This media file is in the public domain in the United States.
Date: 1893
Source: The Project Gutenberg EBook of Official Views Of The World's Columbian Exposition
Author: C. D. Arnold (1844-1927); H. D. Higinbotham

Today is not much different. Around the world today, cities of all sizes, want to become “smart cities.” Municipal leaders expect to harness technology to transform service delivery and improve quality of life for citizens. Smart cities projects range from smart lamp posts,  to better water management ( to sustainable lights, to improved resilience to natural or unforeseen events. Smart cities projects involve devices and sensors to digitize information for analysis, which enable insights and better outcomes for constituents.

How do cities become smart cities in the 21st century?

Investment in devices, sensors and connectivity is an important step to becoming a smart city. This investment is required, whether a smart city is a greenfield investment, like the Deep Ellum project in Dallas, Texas or rebuilding as in Fujisawa, Japan (see also

 A city needs both financial resources and technical expertise. According to a recent report ( by Black & Veatch, nearly 70% of survey respondents see budget constraints as a hurdle to smart city management. Slightly over 49% view lack of resources or expertise as an obstacle. The corporation formed to create the Columbian Exposition is similar to today’s public-private partnership (P3). Technology, engineering, and / or financial companies form P3s with local government to share responsibility for investment needs and future returns on investment. Dallas Innovation Alliance brings together stakeholders from the City of Dallas, corporations, civic and non-governmental organizations, academia and private individuals to support the city’s ongoing evolution as a forward‐thinking, innovative, ‘smart’ global city. Another example of public-private collaboration  is SUPERPUBLIC together with CityInnovate in San Francisco, California, which brings federal, state and city government together with the private sector and academics together in an innovation space to collaborate to solve problems. Start-up firms can also help local governments gain tools and resources for citizens to address urban challenges, while helping start-ups find use cases to help them succeed in the government technology market. The Start-up in Residence programs in the San Francisco Bay area promotes regional government technology research and development.

So the concept of public private partnerships is not new.  Governments are taking them to a new level with new forms of collaboration involving private sector, start-ups and academia. Everything old is new again. Or something like that.

Are there any P3s in your neighborhood? Please share with us.

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