18 highly desirable cities (and what you can learn from them)

We describe smart cities as those who use technology to become more livable, workable and sustainable. But what does it mean to become more livable? You’ll find some good ideas below from a project by Council Partner CIVIQ Smartscapes.

CIVIQ asked people where they would like to live for a year and why. While nearly two dozen cities made the list, the “why” section was much more repetitive. And that’s where the lesson for cities is.

Over and over, people picked cities that they thought offered a vibrant life — think gourmet food, cultural treasures like museums, parks and outdoor activities. And they wanted to be able to get to those activities easily.

That may not sound all that techy at first, but smart cities use technology to deliver that desirable quality of life. For instance, some are using mapping and apps to guide tourists and residents alike to their ideal leisure activities. And things like predictive analytics and universal payment systems make it easy for commuters to get where they need to go when they want to go. — Kevin Ebi


By Sandra Baer, CIVIQ Smartscapes

I have been on a mission to ask people this singular question, "If you had to leave where you currently live, and move to a new place for one year, where would you go and why?"  I tell them to let go of any constraints – pick a place and explain their rationale.

The answers are fascinating: They tell us so much about what matters first to people—and their perception of a place. Second, the responses reveal what it is about a place that draws people to it. In essence, the answers serve to define a city’s brand and character.

One classic response to my question was a vote for London: “Simply a city that works—easy to get around—on the Tube, of course, glorious history, traditions and museums.  Yes, it is pricey in London, but for a year, every day would be an adventure and from London, I could travel the Continent.” 

Their responses often reflect sensory impressions – the flavors and sights – and, increasingly, how well the city “works.”  How “smart” the city is — its success in using technology in creative ways to improve the lives of residents and the experiences of visitors – is quickly growing in importance. As cities continue to cultivate their brand, they find ways to increase their capacity to provide a range of user-friendly benefits that maximize both the efficiency and accessibility of what a place has to offer.

For many, my question about choosing an ideal locale is no idle fantasy. There is clearly a shift in attitudes around mobility and the collective ability to move. In fact, 5,000 people around the globe are moving to cities every day, so it is clear that the societal need to find an urban existence is a strong catalyst for change.

City leaders increasingly understand they must adapt and remain highly conscious of their city’s identity and the perceptions of their city—by people who live in the city, by people who choose to visit the city and by people who form an opinion based on external information—the media, their friends and family.

The smart city leaders also know that they are competing for the world’s best and brightest and can shape their city’s brand with the goals of:

  • Being known as a city that connects people—to the city, to places, to experiences and best of all, to each other;
  • Retaining/attracting young people to stay in and come to a city;
  • Creating a place for creative talent, business growth and digital intelligence—innovators, entrepreneurs, academicians and businesses, small and large;
  • Building a healthy environment, a place for humans to thrive—clean, green, sustainable and safe;
  • Creating a community where all are welcome—celebrating diversity, social inclusion and accessibility;
  • Recruiting a cultural richness across the community—for events, sport, art, music, theater, festivals and more;
  • Leveraging the physical assets of a city, creating beautiful places—parks, recreation areas, city centers, river walks, beaches, mountains, places to gather, connect and truly engage.

As an advocate for smart cities, I see how the landscape is changing as urban leaders aspire to meet many of these goals. In fact, in every smart city presentation I make, I change the definition of what is means to be a smart city. More than where the job is, where the family is, people are thinking about the quality of life, their ability to get around the city, the ease of living and of finding their way. As the technology evolves, one constant should remain: enhancing the urban experience.

Perhaps your choice of a place is Paris, or maybe Pittsburgh. The brand association with such choices provides important insights for city leaders. They paint the picture of attractiveness and can guide actions to reinforce the good perceptions, change the bad perceptions and over time, reimagine the image of a city to be place for people to love.

If you lead a city, think about its character. By the year, 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. The challenge is to embrace the density, to set a vision for the kind of city that people want to live in and then move that vision to reality. 

You’ll find some of the responses on the next page.