“Smart Urbanism: Utopian or Survival Vision For 2030?” — Smart Cities Development Globally and Conclusion

On June 29, 2021, we hosted an exciting webinar on Smart Urbanism featuring world-class experts Marcelo Garcia, Bell Beh, and Boyd Cohen. You can watch the webinar here.

Last time, we explored youth empowerment. You can read the article here.

In this article, we will investigate the development of smart cities globally and wrap up the series.

How are smart cities evolving in different continents?

Boyd acknowledged there are lots of variations even within countries, so it is hard to generalize. But, he said, generally, North America has been slow in smart cities development. Some barriers to being smart are bipartisan politics; difficulties in getting national, state, and city levels aligned; cities not built well to deploy smart cities at scale; spread out and sprawled cities; and bad public transit systems that created high car dependence. 

Boyd said a lot of development is behind in Latin America because of a lack of access to capital for investing in scalable and smarter infrastructure. However, he said there are pockets of innovation too. For example, Medellín is a city that embraced innovation from the bottom up in a citizen-centric way. On the other hand, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago de Chile have some more advanced technological deployments around transportation and smart information systems.

Europe has been early in a lot of smart cities work, going through those three generations of smart cities. Boyd believes we will see more of a 3.0 citizen-centric vision combined with six smart strategies at the city level. 

“Asia was very early in embracing technology and smart city evolution and continues to be a leader in the deployment of technology at scale for a range of things, whether that’s transportation, or video surveillance technologies, and various other things.”

Although Boyd said Asia is mainly using a more autocratic and top-down approach, he thinks Asia is rapidly coming around to a bit more of a holistic approach. Over the last three years, many cities like Hong Kong and Singapore have been more focused on engaging people with a startup ecosystem and connecting people with other actors in a more co-creative model.

Marcelo said smaller countries or regions tend to be very powerful in smart cities development. Therefore, he sees most of the successful pioneering projects coming from countries like Singapore or places like Hong Kong.

On top of being small, stars need to be aligned. Marcelo gave the Rio example where IBM stepped in to accelerate their smart cities project because major international events were happening in Rio. 

“I think the government should try to figure out which stars [we can] align to build their own constellation, and they’re all going to be unique and they’re going to be evolving into the future.”

A sentence to define Smart Urbanism: Is it a utopia or survival vision of 2030?

Bell: “It is a work in progress.”

Marcelo: “Engagement.” People should engage as much as they can within their environments. 

Boyd: “Well, I don’t think there’s much of an alternative. We certainly have to be smarter and nobody wants to live in a dumb city.”

Final words

That’s it for the four-part series on smart urbanism! We hope you learned something. Of course, our journey on smart cities will not end here. Please stay tuned for more smart cities-related content from us!

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