Are smart cities really smart?

What makes a city truly smart and how does this benefits business? How will new technologies like 5G redefine what we mean by smart city?

If there's one thing the Covid-19 global pandemic has brought into startling clarity it is the need for connected services and remote access. From Dubai Internet City to Cape Town's smart city bid, governments across the globe have been building the next generation cities -- connected, open, and inclusive - for years and yet they feel even more relevant in the current context.

The question remains though, whether these smart cities actually positively impacting on growth and development. Do they work? Most experts are keen to point out that the use of technology alone is not enough to make a city smart; technology can be a tool, but, by design, smart cities require innovation across a range of processes as well as the implementation of technologies.

Bill Lawrence, counsel at Burr and Forman, says the appeal of smart cities lies in their predicted ability to both spur economic growth for their citizens and also reduce government expenditures. For example, he explains, research suggests that smart city solutions for managing vehicle traffic and electrical grids could produce $160 billion in benefits and savings by reducing energy use, traffic congestion, and fuel costs.

"Municipalities are incentivized to become smart cities, but municipalities that have burdensome or non-existent small cell siting processes will prevent themselves from becoming smart cities and reaping the associated economic rewards," Lawrence says. He adds that the carrot for municipalities is directly in front of them - carriers in the U.S. are willing and ready to invest $275 billion to deploy 5G networks, which could create 3 million new jobs and add $500 billion to the economy.

Benefits for all?

Not everyone is convinced that smart cities are really smart or that they benefit residents. Tim Sylvester, founder, CEO and CTO of Integrated Roadways believes the biggest challenge facing the current generation of smart cities is the high cost weighed against an unknown or undefined end benefit for the taxpaying members of the community.

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