Smart cities continue to evolve: 7 trends to watch (and embrace)

Smart cites are not about technology; they are about using technology to make people’s lives better. As technology changes, cities have new opportunities to make a bigger impact in their communities.

Associate Partner CIVIQ has participated in a number of innovation events around the world, getting an early look at some of the advances that may soon make their way to your city. Below, you’ll get an idea of how these advances could provide everything from better mobility for all your residents to an avenue to share your great work with potential visitors. — Kevin Ebi


By Sandra Baer, CIVIQ

Communities around the world are beginning to understand the power they have to help people connect in new ways. I found this concept evident in innovation events I participated in from Miami Beach to Seville, Spain. Here are 7 key takeaways:

1. Mobility — with a capital M
There is a new lexicon of ideas and actions around mobility. And it is joined by a speed of action in certain cities. More cities are focused on the experience of mobility — frictionless travel, seamless connectivity, the customer journey — and for all people.

More mobility options are becoming available to all, from the physically challenged to those with lower incomes, from seniors to millennials.

2. Everything is moving to digital — unevenly
Just spend a week in London or New York at the digital signage events and you will see the power of digital technology. The industry is now adopting complementary technologies to make your digital screens more captivating: augmented reality, artificial intelligence, RFID chips, cameras and sensors.  Even more, the digital screens will enable valuable analytics, measuring users and user preferences where allowed.

The big challenge here is still the issue of privacy and acceptance will come unevenly in different markets.

3. Interaction between us is the new “town hall”
Renowned city planner, Jane Jacobs, said, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Interaction, between and among us, is the new “Town Hall” for cities which will help us keep our city life engaging, personal and valuable. Cities need to make sure that communication is two-way, and involves all the voices in the community.

4. The working world has changed — and is still changing
After VentureFest in Bristol, England, I began to question if the traditional 9-to-5 job is still viable. The new cohorts of people entering the workforce are digital natives, likely not to remain with a company more than a few years and expecting to work as entrepreneurs, freelancers. Social tools are changing the recruiting environment like crazy. 

It is clear: the “jobs that need to be done” in a digital world will require new skills, new competencies and new attitudes, worldwide. How will cities adapt?

5. Community identity, brand image and sense of character
Increasingly, city leaders understand the importance of their brand image and are doing a better job of communicating their assets. In Barcelona, over 300 countries and cities exhibited, from Israel to Italy, each showcasing the special attributes of their community.  Indeed many of the sessions discussed technology designed to improve a city’s attractiveness — safer streets, great places to visit for food and entertainment, more beautiful public spaces, more mobility options to move around a city.

6. Finding ways to invest in the right technology.
At almost every conference, the discussion moved to financial resources that are needed to improve infrastructure.  And at CES, there was a lot of talk about Scott Galloway’s book, “The Four,” which looks at the four top tech companies: Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook. More than follow the money, Scott says follow the universities — the ones that are gathering the top engineering talent, the ones that are attracting the finest human capital. Cities will reap the benefits of supporting smart, innovative, big ideas and investments in infrastructure will follow.

7. Collaboration is everywhere and now — especially in procurement
At the MetroLab Network meeting, there was a real interest in “fixing the procurement process” to make smarter, faster, better informed acquisition decisions. If a procurement process takes a year or more, the technology acquired may be out of date by the time it is delivered! Collaboration between different city departments, leadership and companies is essential.

The best presentation was by Sound Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He spoke eloquently about “planning with a purpose” and giving a commitment to truly understanding what people really want and expect from government.