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Considering the future of smart cities in uncertain times

There is a long tradition of seeing the future of cities in a utopian or dystopian light and it is not hard to conjure images in either mode for cities in 25 years, writes Eric Woods.

At a time when predicting what will happen next month is hard, thinking 25 years ahead is both daunting and liberating, particularly when considering the future of cities. For more than a decade, the smart city movement has been driven by visions of how technology can help address some of the most intractable urban challenges. The Coronavirus pandemic and the growing recognition of the impact of climate change have added new urgency to these questions. Citizen health and economic survival have become existential priorities for city leaders. Accepted ideas on how cities are organised, managed, and monitored have been overturned. In addition, cities face depleted budgets and reduced tax bases. Despite these urgent and unpredictable challenges, city leaders realise the need to rebuild better to ensure resilience to future pandemic events, accelerate the shift to zero-carbon cities, and address the gross social inequalities in many cities.

Rethinking city priorities

During the COVID-19 crisis, some smart city projects have been postponed or cancelled and investment diverted to new priority areas. Despite these setbacks, the fundamental need to invest in the modernisation of urban infrastructure and services remains. Guidehouse Insights expects the global smart city technology market to be worth $101 billion in annual revenue in 2021 and to grow to $240 billion by 2030. This forecast represents a total spend of $1.65 trillion over the decade. This investment will be spread over all elements of city infrastructure, including energy and water systems, transport, building upgrades, Internet of Things networks and applications, the digitalisation of government services, and new data platforms and analytical capabilities.

These investments – and particularly those made in the next 5 years – will have a profound impact on the shape of our cities over the next 25 years. Many cities already have plans to be carbon neutral or zero carbon cities by 2050 or earlier. Impressive as such commitments may be, making them a reality requires new approaches to urban infrastructure and services enabled by new energy systems, building and transportation technologies, and digital tools. It also requires new platforms that can support collaboration among city departments, businesses, and citizens in the transformation to a zero-carbon economy.

Post time: May-25-2021