New Year often brings with it a fresh perspective and new inspirations. I resolved to get my own perspective on the year ahead for smart cities.
I spent time (Christmas and New Year give you that unusual luxury – time!) reading, speaking to players, and looking into in the subject. Starting with “where, exactly, are we at?”
So – soberingly – the conclusion of 2017 sees no consensus on smart cities in many aspects.
No geographical commonality. In China the conversation veers towards ‘belt and road’ and in the USA towards financial opportunities for IT companies.
This is not the same sport, let alone the same ballpark. As previously mentioned, across Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Korea there are very different pictures – and different levels of interest.
No consensus on smart city. What does it mean? What does it include and exclude? Does it include housing affordability? Is the emphasis more on the ‘smart’ or on the ‘city’? Are green initiatives, such as urban farming, part of smart cities?
Actually, there is no consensus on ‘city’ itself. Smart city is increasingly (and rightly, in my view) used in a “smart rural area” context. We are a long way from having a common direction in the smart city movement.
Now, on the positive side, during 2017 there were a lot – thousands of man-hours – of useful planning and workshopping to flesh out and prioritise:
What exactly are the benefits of smart city projects?
When will they materialise?
Who are the parties that will benefit?
What will it cost – or – will it pay for itself?
The answers to these questions are different for each city or community. However, the fact that these issues are being examined means that we are not so likely to see an authority investing in (say) a smart lighting project, then claiming to be a smart city.
This is enormously positive, because a year ago, there was a danger that an urban authority, which had just completed such a project, would slap a PR sticker on the place to claim “We are now a smart city.”
Taking a beneficial project (or two or three) that be justified on its own merits and putting an inappropriate label in front of it would de-scale the expectations, and eventually the reality, of what can be achieved by a well-planned, holistic smart community vision.
So, will the next 12 months be the time when it all suddenly happens for smart cities? Some people are saying it will be. My own assessment is, all you can honestly say is “This is the year we will keep trying”.