Will smart cities be smart or dumb?

The topic of Smart City has become an increasingly popular conversation in many regards; OEMs, Cities, Data Providers, Hardware Developers, etc. There is a tremendous amount of evolution that needs to happen in a short period of time - all being highly coordinated to make an impact and not a mess. 

The United Nations estimates that nearly 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030… Although cities occupy only around two percent of the earth’s surface, they are responsible for more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions.
— United Nations

The dream of a Smart City is a great one. Citizens seamlessly navigating through cities in the most efficient way possible. Traffic works without any congestion. Government services are more efficient and effective. Delivery vehicles are coordinated like a ballet. And everything is running with negative emissions. An amazing dream, but there are some harsh realities that need to be considered before we take a single step. 

  • It’s a crowded conversation: In order to pull off a smart city integration there are a tremendous amount of players and stakeholders. There are city, state and federal government departments, there are data providers, hardware providers, OEMs, municipal services, the list could go on. Trying to wrangle all these disparate entities to work with a common goal and mission is a challenge in and of itself. 

  • Funding the chicken & egg: Funding smart city projects and implementation is a challenging debate. Do cities invest first, drive revenue first or look to private funding to support the implementation. TechCrunch just had a great article about ad-funded smart city models that showcases the pros and cons of that approach. 

  • Re-Urbanization & Influx of “smart mobility”: As citizens continue to move to urban locations, an influx of new smart mobility services pop up. Uber alone has increased traffic in major cities by 180%. Not to mention the headaches that scooters and bike sharing are creating in other cities. This creates congestion, parking, policy and compliance, and accessibility and inclusion issues that cities need to solve. 

  • There is so much data & so many languages: Interoperability is a real issue. Think of all the data and components that need to connect in order to make a city smart. There are environmental, consumer, city, brand, business, and vehicle data that all need to coordinate to make smart decisions and value propositions for citizens.

  • Talk about legacy: There are massive legacy infrastructure issues in all cities. Making them smart and interoperable will continue to be a challenge for any city.

  • Not to mention, no one has ever done it before

As I talk with key stakeholders across many different organization types, I have started to see an interesting trend that I think could be bad for the evolution of Smart City. The need to get things moving quickly, many cities and stakeholders are beta testing micro elements of smart city to see if they could “work.” This means AV tests, electric scooters, environmental data modeling, smart parking, etc - all of these solving issues from the city’s perspective one at a time. However, in all of these conversations, I have yet to hear an organization tell me they have a holistic Smart City experience strategy or multi-year roadmap that continually solves core citizen needs. This could spell trouble in the next 5-10 years as citizen transportation behaviors shift and new vehicle technology comes to market. we could be looking at more dumb cities than smart. 

The strategy can’t be a “try everything to see what works,” but a systematic and intentional approach to strategic development, prioritization and implementation from the citizen’s point of view.

The two key factors for Smart City success:


Develop a holistic and ongoing experience strategy rooted in Citizen needs and behaviors. This provides the insights needed to architect and orchestrate the most effective implementation plan and roadmap for the Smart City solutions.


There needs to be a single source of truth and a single point of oversight. This allows for a focused approach on the strategy, the implementation plan, a specific understanding of the roles for various stakeholders (architects, data, hardware, OEMs, Mobility startups, etc) and a common data usage and language.

I’ll be speaking on this subject at the Business Design Technology Conference on Thursday, December 6th in New York City. If you’re in the neighborhood, come check it out. 

Ready to chat more, feel free to reach out