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Where Next for Smart Cities?

As we head into the 2020s, most cities strive for the label “smart city.” But what does that mean and where is this trend going? Here’s your roundup of smart city developments, plans and ongoing challenges.

The global buzz surrounding smart cities has been growing steadily louder over the past few years.

Here are a few intriguing quotes on the subject of building smart cities:

  • “Smart cities are those who manage their resources efficiently. Traffic, public services and disaster response should be operated intelligently in order to minimize costs, reduce carbon emissions and increase performance.” Eduardo Paes
  • “We [MIT Smart Cities research group] try to identify the fundamental underlying design assumptions that everybody takes as a sort of given and unchallengeable when you think about solving these problems. And we try to challenge those assumptions.” William J. Mitchell
  • “Before we bring in technology, we need to look at how we organize our communities. Why can’t people live on the second floor and work on the first floor? Why can’t we create communities where they are responsible for their schools, parks, teachers and doctors, and not somebody from [New] Delhi?” Sam Pitroda [Note: To read his full Wharton interview on why smart cities need to be happy cities, go here.]
And for a vision of what a smart city is, the expectations and what a smart city can become, I really like this Forbes interview with Asset Issekeshev, mayor of Astana, Kazakhstan, from 2017.  

What's Next with Smart Cities?

So what are some of the recent encouraging (and discouraging) developments in this important space? Why is trend set to explode in overall growth in the 2020s? 

Here are a few of the interesting articles from the past week alone on smart cities:

Here's a quick 2019 overview of smart cities technology from CES:

At the end of last year, many predictions emerged about smart cities for 2019 and beyond. Here are a few of those predictions worth reading, in six categories:

  1. New, and seemingly outlandish, mobility offerings
  2. Continued consolidation
  3. The changing face of parking
  4. Scooter predominance over bikes
  5. New ways to pay
  6. Continued emphasis on 5G
Another excellent report was IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Smart Cities and Communities 2019 Predictions. Here are a few highlights:

  • “Prediction 7: Investment in Smart City Use Cases Will Reach $158 Billion by 2022, with the Fastest Overall Growth in the Americas and the Most Spending on Fixed Visual Surveillance and Public Transit
  • Prediction 8: By 2023, 50% of Cities Will Deploy Platforms That Formalize Crowdsourced Participation in City Budgeting and Neighborhood Decision Making
  • Prediction 10: With Water Scarcity a Developing Risk Multiplier, by 2024, 45% of Cities and Communities Will Adopt IoT-Enabled Water Management for Usage and Quality Monitoring and Leak Detection”
Troubles with the Smart Cities Agenda?

For some balance, read this article from titled: The trouble with smart cities.

Here’s a quote I like from the article: “Across the country, mayors are issuing open calls for smart city tech. One reason, as we've reported, is that second-tier cities are desperate to attract jobs and people — and boost their flagging and sometimes dire circumstances. The effort is to beat a trend in which the best talent and money are going to so-called "superstar cities."

Back in 2017, Professor Herman van den Bosch wrote an insightful article for titled: If smart city is the solution, what was the problem?” Here’s an excerpt:

“The promise of the smart city is one of the digitally-enabled data-driven, continually sensed, responsive and integrated urban environment and a manageable entity. Whether this promise will be kept is questionable: what remains to be seen, is the extent to which the smart city agenda is anything else than another instantiation of corporate power grabs, entrenching surveillance, private control over urban management. …”

I really like his four questions at the end of the smart cities piece:   

   “1. What is the most desirable use of urban space, seen from a multi-actor and multi-stakeholder perspective?

    2. How can all residents maximize their participation in urban life?

    3. What mix of companies generate the most diversified sustainable employment?

    4. What is the best way to involve as many citizens as possible in decision-making at all levels?

The role of data, digital facilities and other technologies must be considered in conjunction with answering these four questions.”

Cybersecurity and Smart Cities

I have written a series of blogs and articles on smart cities and smart city security over the past five years. Here are a few of those pieces for review:

Also, the first 2019 prediction for smart cities from IDC (above) is more sober with cybersecurity concerns highlighted: 

“Prediction 1: In 2019, the Security Weaknesses of Legacy Systems Will Hinder the Adoption of New Technologies in One-Third of Cities with the Connection Between New and Old Systems Posing a Major Security Risk.”

Final Thoughts

I want to keep this blog shorter, but offer some practical advice and touch-on our overall "smart everything" direction.

I see this smart city trend (even transformation) marching on in the 2020s, but with some pragmatic twists that need to help solve serious urban problems and not just deploy what tech vendors want to sell. For example, I really like this Edmonton Smart Cities Challenge proposal which is called “Healthy City.” 

In conclusion, smart cities will continue to evolve and grow around the world as technology advances. I expect to be writing even more about cities and life in "smart buildings" with "smart transportation" and "smart communities" in 2025, although we will eventually use a different word than "smart."

What do you think that new word will be?  

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.