Imagine being elected mayor of a city declared one of America’s most violent and dysfunctional, with drug markets, criminal gangs, and murder rates all out of control. That was the leadership challenge Martin O’Malley faced when he became mayor of Baltimore.

He knew the task at hand would require more than sheer determination. It would also require entrepreneurial guile backed by leading-edge tech to map, solve – and even predict – problems. Martin O'Malley was so successful in his technology-led approach that he cut the crime rates in Baltimore by 43% and shaved $100M off operating costs.

He went on to be named one of TIME Magazine’s ‘Top 5 Big City Mayors’, became the Governor of Maryland in the United States from 2007 to 2015 and even a democratic contender for the Presidential nomination. In this blog, Governor O’Malley shares why he believes all smart cities need to start by looking at the question of ‘where’.

Smart governing for smart cities, by Martin O'Malley

Humanity has crossed a major threshold: more than half of us now live in cities. By 2050, the UN project that figure will increase to more than 65%...

With a growth pattern like this, it is clear the future sustainability of our planet depends on smarter governed cities.

I recently joined city leaders from across Asia and Australia at the Asia Pacific Cities Summit (APCS) to discuss how an entrepreneurial, data-driven approach to leadership can help build smarter cities for generations to come.

Climate change and urbanization are both very real, and our children's future will be determined by the pace at which cities can make themselves more sustainable, more prosperous, more just and more liveable places.

Take heart — cities all over the world are rising to the challenge.

There is a new and better way of governing emerging from our cities and local governments and it’s an approach underpinned by technology and real-time data.

Getting things done, bringing people together, using modern technologies like GIS to improve the delivery of essential city services and to enable better analytics — this is the new way of governing.

And the great promise is not so much that the data allows us to manage the masses, but rather it allows us — if we care — to recognize the needs and dignity of every individual person.

Isn't that what democracy is all about?

With the widespread, ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, lack of trust is one of the greatest challenge democracies face today, and perhaps city leadership provides the way forward in these challenging times.

Cities – together

For the last few years, I have been leading a smart cities initiative in the United States called MetroLab Network. MetroLab is a collaborative network of 40 leading cities and their university partners.

This network is, in essence, a community of practice; a network of cities committed to the idea of better partnerships for the research, development and deployment of smart city solutions to big city challenges.

We are focused generally on two categories of work:

  • First, how can sensors and urban instrumentation better the way we manage the built and natural environment of cities and how can we use these technologies to address sustainability, resilience, energy, traffic and stormwater issues?

  • Second, how can we use big data and open data for social good — for the more timely and accurate delivery of critical human services, whether it's healing families affected by coronavirus or saving vulnerable children. How can we collectively create, in open and transparent ways, better diagnostics, screeners and alert systems in human service delivery that save lives?

Powerful examples are emerging and improving their practice every day. With openness and transparency, cities all around the world can learn from one another and accelerate the learning curve.


When I was elected Mayor back in 1999, my city, Baltimore, had become the most violent, addicted and abandoned city in America. At one of our first community meetings in a hard-hit neighborhood of East Baltimore, citizens assembled with me, their new Mayor, to talk about crime and public safety and about justice and racial injustice.

There was tension in the air — a fear about what might be.

A little girl came up to the microphone.

“Mr Mayor,” she said, “my name is Amber, and I am 12 years old. And because of all the addicted people and drug dealers in my neighborhood, there are people in the newspaper who call my neighborhood, ‘Zombie Land.’ And I want to know if you know they call my neighborhood Zombie Land. And I want to know if you’re doing anything about it?”

Her two questions are the two essential questions:

  • Do you know?

  • Are you doing something about it?

Together, we put our city on a path to achieve the greatest reduction in crime of any major city in America. We used modern information technology like GIS — smart maps — to bring separate departments together to reduce crime and improve every other city service.

We measured performance relentlessly. Brought people together in collaborative circles focused on the reality that emerged every week on the latest data displayed on the map.

This is the new way of governing which mayors across the globe are bringing forward.

You see, there is an inseparable relationship — a symmetry — between how well we govern ourselves and how much trust we one another.

Mayors understand: progress is a collaborative enterprise.

And good mayors are fearless when it comes to sharing information and data openly with all because in today’s Information Age, where citizens know more than their leaders, it is the only way to get difficult things done.

To find out more about GIS solutions for smart government, call 1800 870 750 or send us an email.


Hear more from Governor Martin O'Malley on the breakout Australian leadership podcast Directions with Stan Grant.

Download a free chapter of Smarter Government

Governor O'Malley outlines how to tackle crises with data-driven decisions, real-time information and transparency.

About the Author

Martin O'Malley
Martin O'Malley
61st Governor of Maryland, former Mayor of Baltimore and 2016 US Democratic Presidential Candidate
A global authority on the use of technology and location-based analytics in government.

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