Published on Sustainable Cities

A Top Ten of New Urban Businesses

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We’ve seen cafes, car sharing, cell phones, and social networking products like iPads, proliferate from the world’s rush to urbanize. So what’s next? Following is a list of top ten urban businesses that are likely to flourish over the next few years.

  1. ImageTake Two – Tablets. Just as every television now comes with a remote control, so too will every house and apartment come with a ‘control tablet’. We’ve seen the introduction of tablets as cheap as $40 in rural India. The next push will be a clever city that provides every household with a tablet to check on municipal services, emergency announcements, entertainment, and much more. Once every household has its own tablet, the impact will be enormous. The only question now is which city and companies will take a lead. Best guesses: Kitchener, Canada; Gwangju, South Korea; Bangalore, India; Kunming, China; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Thomson Reuters; RIM; Samsung; DataWind.
  2. Alone For Many. The number of people living alone in cities is increasing everywhere. In Sweden 47% of the total population lives alone, Japan 31%, US 28%, South Africa 24%, Brazil 10% - and the numbers are always higher in cities. Community care centers and businesses that cater to single residents – like taking people for minor medical treatments, house sitting, clubs, restaurants and grocery stores – will do well.
  3. Lend to a Friend. ZipCar works as a business because people who join the program leave the cars clean and with enough gas for the next driver. There’s an esprit décors with ‘members’ – and everyone benefits if you think about the next user. This attitude will likely spread to other items used only occasionally such as garden tools, camping gear and party rooms. Soon you will even see people sharing pets.
  4. Neighborhood Concierge. Similar to community care centers and programs that cater to the single resident, neighborhood concierges will help with local errands and services. People might be notified on short notice when a local hotel has a vacant room, or a local store has an over-supply of some particular fresh produce. As Robert Putnam highlighted, more people are ‘bowling alone’ – but increasingly they might be directed to the bowling alley by the neighborhood advisor.
  5. Immigrant Mentors. You’re new to town: Maybe an immigrant, maybe a visitor. Soon you will be able to hire someone to accompany you to get your new driver’s license, or visit City Hall, or find your way around town. This service is often carried out by friends and relatives, but there’s also a business opportunity. A bit like lawyers, local mentors will provide professional representation within the neighborhood.
  6. Community Centers. This might be linked with a few of the above; community centers will emerge that combine cafes, wireless work stations, libraries, book stores and micro farmers markets. These might be located near key transportation nodes. Next stop: frequent visitor cards and perks.
  7. Special Deliveries. In some neighborhoods as many as a dozen or so different delivery vehicles can pass the same residence. Mail, FedEx, UPS, grocery store, florist, etc – some smart business or municipality will figure a way to combine them all in one pass-by.
  8. Get You. In many cities special taxi services are already available to take you to places like the airport. This service will expand as people living in city cores, who choose to forgo a car, will want occasional rides to the golf course, beach, cottage, farmers market, furniture shopping. This demand will increase as the numbers of elderly increases.
  9. Local Insurance. Storms are likely to increase in intensity, municipal services are stretched, and social unrest is not uncommon. Prudent residents may elect to buy local insurance or join services that ensure food supply if the electricity goes out, or a quick response if a tree falls or basement floods. Something you negotiate before the emergency arrives.
  10. Ahead in the Clouds. Smart cities are those that know how to collect information and make it as open as possible to their residents. With all this increased data, cities and utilities are increasingly relying on the cloud to store data. Soon you will be able to check on a city’s real-time use of materials, traffic levels, and generation of energy and waste. This expanding collection and presentation of information is not just a rich-city response. All cities are finding benefit from smart data collection that builds stronger partnerships with residents. Lots of companies are already working in this area; more are coming.

Coming soon: Dan’s blogpost on Top Ten New Urban Jobs


Dan Hoornweg

Professor and Jeff Boyce Research Chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

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