From Concept to Reality: 3 Smart Cities Trends to Watch

1,300 people arrived at Pier 36 this May for the second Smart Cities New York conference. The event brought together leaders from the public and private sectors and addressed a wide range of issues we face as we strive to build the cities of tomorrow. From our time at this year’s show, here are the top trends we see driving smart cities forward:


1. With Big Data Comes Big Responsibility

Several speakers focused on the importance of data in proactively addressing urban challenges, with an emphasis on public safety. Keynote speaker Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel described how using predictive intelligence to become “preventive, not reactive” led to a 50-60% decline in the crime rate in some Chicago areas. As machine learning, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence grow increasingly sophisticated, added the director at Esri R&D in D.C., Andre Turner, cities will become increasingly capable of addressing these kinds of issues before they happen. But with increased data comes increased responsibility, with higher stakes and greater challenges to keep it safe. Describing the ransomware attack that crippled her city’s servers and computer systems earlier this year, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, “We built a system based on communication rather than security, but welcome to 2018. It’s something that all mayors and cities need to have top of mind.”


2. More Public-Private Partnerships

A common theme in speeches and panel discussions was the need for deeper collaboration between tech companies and government. In his keynote discussion on the future of cities, Columbia, South Carolina mayor Steven Benjamin lamented that cities and technology have too long been “afraid of public-private partnerships.” Verizon VP for Smart Communities Mrinali Ingram added that “strong relationships” with cities will be critical for the much-anticipated rollout of 5G wireless systems later this year. But others pointed out that cities shouldn’t lose focus of the purpose of these PPPs. “Technology is a means, not an end, to help the public.” Mayor Emanuel proclaimed, eliciting thunderous applause.


3. Inclusivity Won’t Happen on Its Own

On that note, several panelists discussed the need for smart cities technology to be more inclusive of underserved residents. Mayor Bottoms said that as cities evolve, she fears we’re “creating an even larger divide with underserved communities.” RXR Realty executive (and former head of the New York City Economic Development Corporation) Seth Pinsky concurred, describing modern technological advances as creating clear winners and losers.


As Mayor Emanuel affirmed, tech companies, not just the public sector, need to step up to prevent this gap from widening. “If you can’t have people with the tools to access [smart technologies],” he said, “it’s just a good concept for a conference.” We’re optimistic stakeholders will continue to work together to make sure truly smart cities are a reality for current and future residents of all backgrounds.

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