Sixteen Shades of Smart - Preview

19 Sixteen shades of smart


Arturo Bris, Christos Cabolis and Bruno Lanvin

According to the United Nations, in 1960 almost 34% of the global population lived in urban settings. Half a century later, in 2010, nearly 52% of the world’s population inhabited cities; a number that is estimated to reach 68% by 2050. 1 Urbanization affords many benefits to city dwellers that stem from decreasing the transaction costs associated with fulfilling their needs. Be it the labor market, the goods market, or the services market, living in an urban environment increases both the quality of and the options available for work, schools, cultural events and entertainment. No benefit comes without a cost, however; the downsides of living in a city vary from congestion and traffic to crime, pollution, corruption and poverty. For years, numerous studies have explored ways to balance the advantages and disadvantages of urbanization. The most recent evolution of sorting these trade-offs with the objective of creating a “better” urban environment is the design of “smart cities.” “Smart city” is a term used widely to describe residential areas that apply technology to enhance the benefits and diminish the shortcomings of urbanization. A Google search delivers 41 million results for the exact term “smart city,” while a search for a smart city definition returns almost 3 million entries. Indeed, an attempt to provide a precise and yet universally acceptable definition of a smart city is an impossible task. A similarly overwhelming undertaking is how to identify “best practices” that make a city smart. A partial answer may be offered by the available rankings of smart cities. A more detailed examination suggests that those rankings tend to concentrate on specific dimensions, such as competitiveness, mobility, quality of life and safety, among others; or focus on certain countries, such as Italy and the United Kingdom. There are several rankings of cities that evaluate a broader notion of smartness produced by academic institutions (IESE Business School at the University of Navarra, or the Center of Regional Science at the Vienna University of Technology), consulting firms (AT Kearney, Roland Berger, PricewaterhouseCoopers), providers of services (information and communication technology provider Ericsson, parking solutions provider EasyPark, or real estate agent Savills UK), to mention just a few. And there are plenty that concentrate on one or a few dimensions of smartness, be it, for example, competitiveness (Economist Intelligence Unit, Financial Times,

1 and sion-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html, both accessed May 13, 2019.

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