“Smart city” has become a buzzword in India ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined his vision for creating a series (a hundred, to be exact) of them. Since then, there have been many debates to unpack, understand and define the smart city. “Smart cities” joins the long list of many other often overused city descriptors such as “creative cities”, “sustainable cities”, “eco-cities”, “resilient cities” and “livable cities”.
Cities are becoming the new ecosystems for innovation. Recent studies on venture capital (VC) investment in the United States reveal that innovation is moving from suburbs to downtown areas. Today, San Francisco hosts more VC investment than Silicon Valley and New York – a city where the innovation startup scene was merely anecdotic 10 years ago – has become the third-largest technology startup ecosystem in the United States, with more than US$2.4 billion VC investment in 2011.
This trend is not unique to the United States. Start-ups are surging in other major cities around the world, including London, Berlin, Madrid, Moscow, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Cape Town, Mumbai, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, to name a few.
New technology trends have reduced the cost of technology innovation. Cloud computing, open software and hardware, social networks and global payment platforms have made it easier to create a startup with fewer physical resources and personnel. If in the 1990s, an entrepreneur needed US$2 million and months of work to develop a minimum viable prototype, today she would need less than US$50,000 and six weeks of work (in some cases, these costs can be as low as US$3,000). This trend is allowing entrepreneurs to take advantage of cities’ agglomeration effects: entrepreneurs “want to live where the action is,” where other young people, social activities and peers and entrepreneurs are. They look for conventional startup support, such as mentor networks or role models, but also for nightlife, meet-ups, social activities and other potential for “collisions” – a combination best provided by cities.
Last month, it was time for the project's third phase: a competition to surface new ideas for mass transit options, road safety and mobility information. This event, called the MueveTT Innovation Challenge, brought together 14 teams of people to brainstorm ways for the government, companies, universities, organizations, citizens, and others to work together toward the vision of smart cities.
For Concepción, Chile, a smart city began with people using Lego blocks.
Together with the World Bank, Chile's Unit of Smart Cities in its Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications has been working with Concepción to create a vision for techonology solutions that will help build the Gran Concepción of 2025. A variety of stakeholders – including local and municipal government officials, academic staff, the private sector, civil society actors and citizens – participated in a vision exercise during a co-creation workshop. The workshop applied design thinking and foresight analysis techniques, organized teams with different stakeholders and assigned roles to each different group.
The climate, energy and resource challenges facing the planet are daunting. The world’s population continues to grow rapidly, and the majority of people now live in cities. While cities are projected to be home to nearly 70% of our population by 2050, this won’t happen unless society drives significant efficiency gains in all aspects of resource use. Leveraging information will lie at the heart of optimizing resource use.
While projections for city growth are common, we need ask ourselves a simple question -- how much longer will cities be able to service increasing demands for energy, transportation, water, and food without a wholesale transition in the way resources are managed? If we are going to accommodate billions of new urbanites, they will need energy for lights, for heating, for cooling; energy for transportation, housing and emergency services; energy for water systems and sanitation.
A few weeks ago, John O’Brien, the chief strategist for Ireland’s Industrial Development Agency, was at The World Bank, Washington DC to address an event on the role of cultural heritage and historic cities in Local Economic Development. The theme of the event was creating jobs by supporting historic cities and cultural heritage. Urban Sector Manager Abha Joshi-Ghani began the day’s session by underlining the significance of cultural heritage in city development: “We have started to look at cities as drivers of entrepreneurship and innovation. It is important to understand how cities attract skilled people and industries to create jobs and what role they play in economic growth. Therefore it is very helpful to find linkages between cultural heritage assets and job creation.”
Earlier this month, the World Bank hosted a Smart Cities for All workshop in Washington, DC which convened experts from the United Nations, academia, government agencies, non-profits and industry. The purpose of the workshop was to share insights and experiences of equipping cities with the tools for intelligent growth. Additionally, the forum established a public-private partnership for collaboration in pursuit of shared goals for global sustainability. But what does it mean to be a “smart city”? Is this distinction only reserved for cities starting from scratch? Can an established city boost its IQ?
First, we must take a step back to reflect upon what it means to be a “smart city.” While there is no official definition, many have contributed to this debate. Industry leaders, such as Seimens and IBM, believe that stronger use of technology and data will enable government leaders to make better informed decisions. Whereas others, including the Sustainable Cities Blog’s very own Dan Hoornweg, consider the social aspects as a component of what it means to be a smart city. In his blog, “Smart Cities for Dummies,” published last November, Dan contends: “At its core a smart city is a welcoming, inclusive city, an open city. By being forthright with citizens, with clear accountability, integrity, and fair and honest measures of progress, cities get smarter.” Though I agree with both the data-driven and socially-conscious approaches, I’d like to propose my own definition of a smart city.