Why smarter cities won't necessarily be better ones (says the Economist)

Wed, 2013-09-11 06:05 -- Jesse Berst

You will want to skim this Economist article on smart cities for its warnings about what could go wrong; for its hints on the things that are stalling the market; for its anecdotes of cities doing it right; and for its optimistic conclusion that the competition between cities is our strongest safeguard. Cities that do it wrong will see their citizens move elsewhere. – Jesse Berst


smart city appsThis thorough piece from the Economist takes a hard look at the Open Data phenomenon, which is exploding around the world. The idea is to take data that is paid for by taxpayers and "theoretically" available to the public and make it easier to access. Typically, cities publish dozens or even hundreds of data sets about crime, property values, traffic and much more. Then they invite entrepreneurs and/or volunteers to create useful apps using the data.

On the one hand, the Economist acknowledges that "enthusiasts think data services can change cities in this century as much as electricity did in the last one." But it also plods through a list of the things that could go wrong -- totalitarian governments, cities vulnerable to hackers, etc. Although I think the smart city wave is unstoppable, I think the Economist provides some helpful cautions as we start down this road.

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.