The City of Experiences

How are smart cities responding to the changing global technology landscape? 

Five out of the 6 major smart city projects we analysed for this report — Dubai, Singapore, New York, Barcelona, London and Vienna — has released revised smart city strategy in the past year. 

The revised strategies are not tackling new technology. To maintain agile and innovative, the smart city elite are moving away from technology. The smart city vision of the next decade is one of experiences.

The smart city of the next decade will be defined by experiences.

In Singapore, city leaders are pivoting aware from digital city services — mission complete — and focusing efforts on social services such as healthcare, education and mobility.

To inject innovation and agility into the initiative, Singapore is opening its smart city program to encourage contributions from the general public and the private sector, under the SmartNation’s new tagline, “Many smart ideas, one smart nation.” 

As it moves beyond digital city services, Singapore is redefining its vision of a smart city as one where “people are empowered by technology to lead meaningful and fulfilled lives.”

New York City, under a new Mayor, is pouring investment into the Internet of Things to create a Smart and Equitable city. Guided by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vision for a “strong and just city,” the New York’s updated smart city strategy will deliver smart initiatives ranging from wireless water meters, to real-time gunshot detection, to snow plow tracking, to deliver improve city experiences to all residents, proving “that connected technologies can help improve government services and better the lives of all New Yorkers and communities across the five boroughs.”

Barcelona has announced the next chapter of its digital transformation, setting straightforward vision, to “make life better for people.” 

Absent the pressures of technology proofs, digital blueprints, and initiative roadmaps, a vision that is focused on positive city experiences is giving smart city leaders the flexibility to explore emerging technologies, try and discard new approaches, and change directions when or as needed, towards achieving a goal that everyone in the city can get behind: a better life.  

Dubai, who has been steadily investing in developing its knowledge economy since the early 2000’s, has staked a claim as an early pioneer of this new approach to smart cities. 

The Smart Dubai initiative, launched by the Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in March of 2014, made a splash in the international smart city arena with a bold new vision: to make Dubai the happiest city on earth. 

(Smart city darling Barcelona, in the same period, was operating under a remarkably disconsonant vision, to achieve “many slow cities inside one smart city.”)

Guided for three years now by this unique vision, the Smart Dubai initiative has effectively managed to deliver the same benefits that most smart city initiatives were promising in the 2013-2014 era: Internet of Things, open data, city platforms, and simultaneously adopt new strategies to deliver impactful new technologies well ahead of the curve. Dubai’s smart city initiative announced a citywide strategy to champion blockchain in October 2016; and in early 2017 announced a similarly comprehensive program to expand artificial intelligence capabilities for services and processes across the city.

Singapore, Barcelona, New York and Dubai represent a new vanguard of smart city programs that have moved beyond ICT technology. For these pioneering cities, the future lies in smarter experiences, not smarter technology. 


The Future of Smart Cities

Half a century ago, at the Community Analysis Bureau in Los Angeles, the first smart city initiative stumbled into obsolesce. 

The early promise of the CAB, to harness computational power to uplift standards of living for everyone in city, gave way to bureaucratic accounting, piecemeal demands for new programs and incremental initiatives with little value to show for the effort. Absent a unifying vision for public good to motivate stakeholders, and left instead with only its technological capabilities, the initiative didn’t survive its first decade.

As today’s crop of global smart cities confront the 10-year milestone, the route to longevity is clear:  to build a resilient smart city, forget about the technology. Focus on the people.