Cities traditionally have been bustling hubs where people live, work and play. When the pandemic hit, some people fled major metropolitan markets for smaller towns — raising questions about the future validity of cities. It’s true that we’re still months away from broader reopenings and herd immunity via current vaccination efforts.
However, those who predicted that COVID-19 would destroy major urban communities might want to stop shorting the resilience of these municipalities and start going long on what the post-pandemic future looks like.
U.N. forecasts show that by 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities, communities that are the epicenters of culture, innovation, wealth, education and tourism, to mention just a few benefits. They are not only worth saving — they’re also ripe for rebirth, precisely why many municipal leaders in the U.S. anticipate the Biden administration will allocate substantial monetary resources to rebuilding legacy infrastructure (and doing so in a way that prioritizes equitable access).
With this emphasis on inclusivity and social innovation, the tech community has the ability to address a range of lifestyle and well-being issues: infrastructure, transportation and mobility, law enforcement, environmental monitoring, and energy allocation.
In this time of reset for cities, what smart city technologies will transform how we live our lives? What kinds of technology will make the biggest impact on cities in the next 12 months? Which smart cities are ahead of the curve?
To unpack these questions and more, we conducted the SmartCityX Survey of industry experts — including smart city investors, corporate and municipal thought leaders, members of academia, and startups on the front lines of urban innovation — to help provide valuable insights into where we’re heading. Below you’ll find some key takeaways:
Infrastructure is the most crucial issue for cities
Critical infrastructure topped the list of most prominent issues facing today’s cities, followed closely by traffic and transportation. Cisco may have left the party too soon, but others, including countless startups, are lining up and capitalizing on future growth opportunities in the space. A couple of recent data points that support this trend — particularly as it relates to infrastructure rebuilding, IoT and open toolkits to connect fragmented technologies — include the following:
- Bentley Systems, fresh off a September IPO, announced a $100 million corporate venture capital fund.
- Qualcomm announced its IoT Services Suite, comprising leading solutions ranging from wireless connectivity, hardware, software and data analytics to platform integration.
“Smart Infrastructure is paramount to Smart City success. It’s crucial that this infrastructure be ‘architected’ as opposed to just connected. This is the only way to truly achieve seamless interoperability while ensuring scalability, reliability, security and privacy. Technology companies that offer robust architectural components and/or platforms stand to deliver tremendous stakeholder value and outsized returns to investors.” – Sue Stash, – — General Partner, Pandemic Impact Fund
What’s driving change in cities?
When asked what will accelerate innovation and change in cities, an overwhelming majority cited COVID-19 as the primary factor, followed by remote work, which has accelerated the adoption of online collaboration tools and forced legacy companies to complete multi-year digital transformation projects in a matter of months. The biggest opportunity is to build cities back better and smarter, focusing on new infrastructures that do more with less, and for most of us, that begins and ends at home.