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The smart city C-Suite? 5 jobs that could save cities

From chief bicycle officer to a whole range of data-driven executives, tomorrow's public servants are likely to have a very different skill set with sustainability at the core.

So far, the 21st century has been an interesting time to work for a city.

On one hand, urbanism is having a moment in the sun as young residents flock back to downtown areas where planners are rushing to build new mixed-use housing and reclaimed wood-framed office space. At the same time, technology is overhauling the way people get around cities (Uber), access space in cities (Airbnb) and consume food in cities (Postmates).

Meanwhile, cities themselves have underlying issues brewing. Boom-and-bust economic cycles have decimated general funds in many areas, leading to speculation about a "new normal" marked by cash-constrained local governments. With cities in the red, public-private partnerships — or even outright privatization of services such as supplying water — are a constant topic of discussion.

If that wasn't enough, the slow breaking wave of global anxiety about climate change is also making its way to major cities, many of which are putting together their own action plans in the face of lukewarm national and international commitments.

One area that has been less explored: what all this might mean for the public sector job market.

Historically a bastion of stable middle- to upper-middle-class jobs with stable benefits, the leadership positions that cities look to fill increasingly mirror private sector organizations looking to keep pace with digitization.

The pace of technological change in urban environments ... has helped thrust notoriously slow-moving government bureaucracies onto a collision course with broader sustainable development issues.

"Cities can’t compete with salaries or perks," said Carl Piva, vice president of strategic programs at smart city-focused business association TM Forum. "I think some of the new roles being designed could attract the right set of socially minded high tech skills."

In the process, the pace of technological change in urban environments thanks to the rush toward smart cities has helped thrust notoriously slow-moving government bureaucracies onto a collision course with broader sustainable development issues, such as workforce automation, climate risk and whether Big Data is all it's cracked up to be.

So, what might some of the jobs leading cities of the future actually look like?

1. Chief resilience officer

CROs — chief resilience officers, not chief revenue officers — already have arrived in cities from Oakland, California, to Durban to Surat, India.

At the heart of the trend spurred most notably by Rockefeller Foundation offshoot 100 Resilient Cities is the increasingly obvious need to address interconnected immediate and longer-term risks. Extreme weather events made more likely with hotter average temperatures could pose a sudden shock to urban systems, for instance, while less tangible divides such as income inequality or the threat of sea-level rise could come to a head over time.

Given that these jobs are exceedingly broad, potentially covering energy, transportation, climate, housing and any number of other urban issues, one question is how these responsibilities might be divvied up among city officials in the future.

2. Chief data officer

An offshoot of the "civic hacker" movement, how cities will broach the Big Data craze is a big area of curiosity.

"I am intrigued by technologies that bring the city closer to its citizens, like artificial intelligence and automation solutions that will make it possible to create one-to-one relationships between the city and the citizen and citizens and other citizens," Piva said.

3. Chief citizen officer

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is the nebulous realm of new types of people-focused leadership roles. Although corporate America long has been on a rabid quest for the most efficient ways to attract and retain talent ("human capital management," anyone?), public sector executives inherently have different dynamics to account for because they are directly accountable to taxpayers.

With the 2016 U.S. presidential election as one inescapable example, mounting public discontent over a whole range of social and economic issues has in turn elevated discontent about lacking government transparency and accountability. Ground zero: anxiety about the future of jobs in all sectors of the economy.

"We are indeed once again hearing the chorus of pessimism and doubt. Automation is going to destroy white collar jobs (PDF) in the same way it once destroyed factory jobs," Tim O'Reilly wrote in a recent Medium essay. "There may be enormous dislocation, but we will come through it in the end."

Although a title such as "chief citizen officer" might seem unnecessary, or even glaringly redundant when considering that government at the most basic level is supposed to represent citizens, some argue that a city leader explicitly focused on responding to public sentiment measured through both on- and offline channels could be beneficial.

4. Chief mobility officer

One city function particularly in need of an update is transportation planning, as exemplified by the oft-bizarre divide over beefing up public transit systems or favoring radical alternatives such as Hyperloop tube travel.

Collectively referred to as "urban mobility," a whole range of new modes of transportation are emerging. It's not just Uber, Zipcar and other shared transportation service companies. Automakers churning out ever-more-connected cars and a range of players pursuing self-driving cars also could contribute to a seismic shift in how cities are designed.

How "chief bicycle officers" might figure in for cities looking to curb automotive reliance is one interesting question, along with what it all means for costly urban infrastructure such as roads, bridges and parking garages.

5. Night mayor

The concept of cities that never sleep is getting more literal with the role of the "night mayor" pioneered in none other than Amsterdam.

A first-of-its-kind summit convening those interested in "the economic and cultural value of ‘the night’" was held this year alongside the European Union's mayoral summit, with a focus on how and why to hire a night mayor.

It might sound offbeat, but the prospect of monetizing all hours of the day also raises much more fundamental questions about the next chapter in the perennial debate over whether economic growth is automatically counterproductive to sustainability.

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