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?

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Davide Chiaroni, Full Professor of Strategy &Marketing at MIP Politecnico di Milano, likens IT and IoT technologies to the "electric power" of smart cities. He says that moving to 5G technologies will be like, in the past century, moving from gas or oil "powered" street lights to the modern electric street lights. "They will open a new set of possibilities for designing products and services that will fit the smart cities," he says, adding that a smart city is an Eldorado for business.

"There are a number of new products/services to be yet invented to exploit the potential of smart cities and the tremendous amount of data and information-connected objects that will generated in the future," Chiaroni says. He adds that a flexible and adaptable environment will help business to improve their resilience and adapt even their premises and buildings to the changing needs of customers.

But, he cautions, on the other side of the coin, we will need more flexible, digital and data driven business than we have had so far.

Høgåsen-Hallesby says that one of the core challenges for smart cities is that they are, for the most part, data driven, which by nature presents a number of challenges to a user's privacy. New regulations outlining how data can be collected and processed - such as GDPR - were not in place when a number of smart cities began development, he points out.

"It can be difficult to claim ‘privacy by design' without a general accepted definition of ‘privacy'. We're now seeing newer technologies - such as those provided by Urban Sharing - armed with a much better understanding of how to build respect for a user into the system itself, while still maximising the potential that macro-data can provide."

Ultimately the real challenge and litmus test for smart cities is equity, something which has again been highlighted during Covid. For smart cities to truly be smart they need to take all of their citizens and all of their businesses with them and ensure that everyone benefits from initiatives that are ultimately paid for by tax.

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