Smart Cities: Embracing New Technologies to Get Surprisingly Smarter

Cities have faced traditional challenges like congestion, pollution, and safety for decades, and most have a plan to combat them. Meanwhile, cyberattacks, climate change, and natural disasters are new threats currently mounting, which require new approaches and an expanded range of technologies to create true strategy shifts. Digital twins & urban modeling, resilient cities, circular cities, micro-mobility, and smart spaces have been identified as those shifts poised to make smart cities even smarter. 

Making the Right Investment

Although smart city tech investments are forecasted to eclipse $61B in 2026, it's reasonable to wonder if this spend will be allocated to more than incremental improvements. To date, the smart cities enterprise has been predicated on an IoT foundation, attaching connected sensors to the already-built urban environment that allows for efficiency improvements on buildings, roads, and utilities. However, making smart cities smarter will require investments targeted toward advanced technologies.

Employing Smarter Strategy Shifts

Urban 3D modeling and generative design are set to change the way cities are designed, managed, and upgraded with the implementation of holistic real-time modeling — building digital twins of entire cities — and the automated design of both brownfield and greenfield urban environments. It is an illusion to believe that adding a shallow layer of IoT technology to legacy urban environments will allow cities to address urban challenges of the future, from the provision of sustainable energy to adoption of smart mobility and construction of resilient cities. 

Another strategy shift is the migration from a focus on "safe and secure cities" to resilient cities. Because of their density, urban areas are vulnerable to both loss of life and economic value in terms of GDP. Cities need to be prepared to facilitate evacuation emergency response procedures in the wake of natural disasters or other catastrophic events. To make cities fully resilient, advanced AI and deep learning approaches can be crucial in their ability to help predict, and potentially avoid, these types of events. 

Moving from green and sustainable cities to circular cities is the third strategy shift. Cities can be remade into circular entities, eliminating their "outside of the city" footprints entirely by achieving large degrees of self-sufficiency in areas such as energy generation. Sharing, recycling, repairing, refurbishing, and repurposing materials, assets, and natural resources are guiding principles of circular economies, representing an endgame for smart cities. 

Because driverless vehicles and consumer-owned electric vehicles are not expected to hit the mass market anytime soon, micro-mobility, or Mobility 2.0, is another shift smart cities are utilizing to reduce congestion and traffic, as well as chronic air pollution. While docked, non-electric bike-sharing never gained full steam, we are now witnessing increased global adoption of dockless electric bike and scooter sharing, and to a lesser degree, electric motorbikes. These options also offer a slight added convenience, with their ubiquitous availability and powered operation. 

The final strategy shift is centered around remaking the urban environment through smart spaces, with the most prominent example being the repurposing of parking lots and building within cities that utilize car-sharing and micro-mobility. The expansion and active management of green spaces is also high on the agenda of urban designers. 

High Expectations, but Opportunities Lie Ahead

Cities are experiencing a revolution as to how they plan to tackle the challenges of enhancing the already complex smart cities landscape. Bolder, more holistic, cross-vertical, and closed-loop approaches can help optimize the potential of available resources and services. Urban modeling and digital twins, AI and automation, demand-response software, edge/cloud platforms, and generative design are the technologies that will aid in accomplishing those goals.

To learn more about the key strategy shifts, and the issues and challenges to their adoption, download our free whitepaper, 5 Ways Smart Cities Are Getting Smarter