No matter our nation, certain problems persist. For example, in the United States, the challenges range from failing infrastructure to rising national debt to unsupportable health care spending. The stats:

  • Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers issues The Infrastructure Report Card. Since 1998, the U.S. national infrastructure earns a consistent D grade.
  • The U.S. national debt exceeds $20 trillion, and it continues to rise.
  • Health care spending is projected to outpace Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates that health care spending will account for 19.9 percent of GDP by 2025, up from 17.8 percent in 2015.

Older generations continue to kick big problems to future years. With the rise of Smart City initiatives, delaying problem resolution doesn’t fit with the concepts. To stimulate Smart Cities, we need Smart Citizens. The reason that I am calling on Millennials to be Smart Citizens is simple: They are the next large voting generation, and their numbers will have an impact.

Millennial leadership and citizenship needs to rise to our challenges.

Millennials: Vote!

Boomers were the largest voting generation, but their presence is beginning to slip. Age is the factor. The Boomer population is beginning to die, and all Millennials are now old enough to vote. However, according to a recent Pew Research study, Millennials are not voting at the same rate as older generations. The previous three generations – Gen X, Boomer, Silent – each are turning out to vote at 60 percent and higher. Meanwhile, only 46 percent of Millennials voted in the last election.

Each of our major challenges impact the future. Without Millennial voter participation, they are kicking responsibility down the road, and they will be the ones living with the consequences when they are in their fifties and sixties.

Millennials need to be – just as Generation Z will need to be – Smart Citizens and vote in each election. Every election matters, from city to state to national. A minimum level of civic responsibility is voting, and Smart Citizens do much more than just vote. Without Smart Citizens, Smart Cities will fail or become dystopian.

Smart City: What is it?

What is a Smart City? The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills provides a good definition. They define a Smart City as “the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens.” As part of their discussion, they view a Smart City as a process rather than a static notion. I believe this is a correct way to view a Smart City.

Smart City enables proactive resolution rather than passive catch-up.


Extensive data becomes available for city leaders to make better decisions. Sensors and cloud technology empower the data but also the management and systems to make a place more livable, sustainable, and supportable. Smart City enables proactive resolution rather than passive catch-up. Designing a Smart City is a global work-in-progress.

Technology is not the goal. A Smart City is about the citizen experience. Citizen experiences encompass financial, environmental, protection, transportation, education, and much more. For the citizen experience to be productive and meaningful, Smart Citizens are needed.

Smart Citizens: Time for Millennials to Lead

Markus Giesler, an associate professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business (York University) and the founding director of the Big Design Lab, discusses the evolution of Smart Cities and the role of citizens in a recent HuffPost article. He highlights that only 15 percent of citizens believe they have input into Smart City projects while 50 percent believe that free WiFi and more information would encourage their participation.

A Smart City requires citizen engagement and activation. The potential is to have more give-and-take in problem identification and solution development. Intermixed within both is greater accountability for leaders and citizens. Digital foundations encourage responsibility and enforce accountability. A great combination.

Millennials need to seize the Smart Citizen lead. Three simple actions include:

Create a Third Party

A NBC News/GenForward survey states the Millennial political unhappiness:

  • 71 percent say the Republican and Democratic parties do a poor job of representing us and that a third major party is needed
  • 63 percent disapprove of the way President Donald Trump is handling his job as president

‘Before starting a new political party, a good starting point is to vote in all elections. If Millennials had voted at the same percentages as other generations, many election results may have been different. If the two parties don’t listen or take heed, then start a third party.

Another starting position is to participate in town hall meetings, civic meetings, candidate debates, and editorials. Participating is about being present in the available forums. What would happen if ten Millennials spoke up at a city council meeting? What if ten Millennials wrote a letter to the editor every month?

Testing your participation skills may result in one of two outcomes. The first one is that you have a change impact. If this fails, then the second happens – you enhance your participation skills as you launch a third political party. A win-win.

To be a Smart Citizen, participate actively. If shut out or ignored, then create a third political party and lead positive change. You can never just be the change; you must act on the change you wish to experience.

Start a Local Smart City Meetup Group

smart citizensTo gain power, start a local Meetup group on Smart City topics. Politics is about momentum, meaning you need to start it, work on it, and spark the point of action. Meeting locally to discuss the different elements of a Smart City and the experience needed in your neighborhoods and cities will ignite change. As more people show-up to engage, learn, and act, power shifts to the group instead of an individual.

Being a Smart Citizen means you use technology and local places to engage others in important topics to discuss challenges and exchange ideas that impact people where they live. After all, a Smart Citizen mixes digital and personal skills well.

Launch a Lunch Policy Discussion at Work

A little different than a community Meetup group is hosting a policy lunches at work. Smart Citizens know we need less politics and more policy. To get to more policy awareness and common ground, we need to understand the issues, perspectives, scenarios, and outcomes. Being a Smart Citizen translates to being more intelligent on the issues that enable a better future.

Now, some may say that hosting these policy discussions at work isn’t a good idea. Older generations used to say that one never discusses politics or religion at work. Well, times have changed. We need to discuss policy at work and, if you dare, even spiritual conversations have a place in leadership betterment.

Business and society are intertwined more today than before. If we don’t understand policy implications, then you will never be a well-rounded business leader. Any business encounters policy issues. From interest rates to bathroom regulations, a business leader will need to navigate policy issues.

Smart Citizens engage in good policy discussions at work. Smart Citizens engage present and future business leaders where they spend at least a third of their day.

Millennials: Smart Citizens Activated

Jia Tolentino delivers a thoughtful perspective on Millennials in her recent New Yorker article. I have never thought that Millennials are ruining our world, and I have always thought they hold much promise in their characteristics and outlook. As an older generation, I felt my responsibility is to support, offer guidance, listen often, learn frequently, and engage the next generation. After all, future generations are what make our legacy-minded responsibilities work.

No generation can disparage or ignore the next. Between generations, we gain strength in our leadership growth and results.

Smart Citizens know the future begins now in what we discuss and how we undertake action. Policy is at the center, and politics is removed from interactions and results. Smart Citizens know our responsibility is to leave our places better than we found them and deliver a foundation for the next generation to build upon.

Crafting a Smart City requires many choices:

  • How much privacy to keep versus common good?
  • How much technology investment versus shovel-ready projects?
  • How much economic development to pursue while keeping the city’s soul and spirit?
  • How to vote in a digital world and engage citizens in meaningful ways?
  • How to encourage diversity instead of narrow political identities?

Smart Cities hold much promise, but it comes with tough choices and decisions. Without Smart Citizens, Smart Cities will only look good on paper. Millennials will be the Smart Citizens we need, and the time to begin is now.

Calling all Millennials: Rise up as Smart Citizens!

Feature Photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash
Article Photo by Climate KIC on Unsplash


To achieve a Smart City model, Smart Citizens need to rise up, and Millennials need to take the lead. Smart Citizens will focus on policy and solutions.