10 Steps to Building a Smart City

  • 2016-04-05
  • The Guardian

1. Work out what problems need fixing

Too many smart city visions concentrate on big data and the internet of things when there are more fundamental problems, says Tom Saunders, a senior researcher at Nesta. Take Jakarta and Beijing: “They are both currently exploring data dashboards and citywide sensing projects to address issues around traffic congestion, when what these cities really need are vastly improved public transport systems.”

2. Find a leader

For Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarape Institute, leaders should come from the public sector. “Some of the standout smart cities – Barcelona, Amsterdam, Malmo – exhibited dynamic leadership from their mayors as well as chief executives,” he says. “Crucially, they did not leave the evolution of the city to the market … In parts of Africa and Asia smart cities are almost purely private sector-driven. As a result, we are seeing elaborate hi-tech satellite cities gathering dust.”

3. Develop a vision everyone can get behind

The Olympics is a good example of a shared goal, which succeeded in bringing together communities, the public and private sectors, academia, volunteers and business. “Many smart city projects fail in communicating the vision, capturing the imagination of people so they can be bothered to participate,” says Priya Prakash, the founder of Design for Social Change. “There is a cultural dimension missing in the conversation.”

4. Make a business case

Networks of sensors need expensive infrastructure, and there’s currently little precedent around whether it’s the taxpayer or industry that foots the bill. A vision that adds economic, social and environmental value could be key to attracting investment from tech companies, universities and elsewhere. “The tech is probably the easiest bit to fix,” says Stuart Higgins, of Cisco UK & Ireland. “Who pays, who drives the changes, who should be involved – they are all bigger challenges.”