ow many Urban Planning 101 courses have begun with the instructor asking the class, “What is a Smart City?” It’s a question that’s sure to set the stage for a semester’s worth of theories, lectures, papers and exams aimed at introducing the students to the many notions and practices they will encounter and perhaps improve on in their budding careers in the field.
It’s not a new notion. City planners and engineers have long been incorporating high-tech traffic sensors, data-driven energy management, use of the Internet of Things for infrastructure and other planning purposes and improved connectivity for citizens and city administration agencies. Our cover story, “Smarter Cities,” brings the discussion in a new direction: An excerpt of “New Industrial Urbanism: Designing Places for Production,” by MIT Professor Eran Ben-Joseph and co-author Tali Hatuka, makes the case that an urban location can give industry a competitive advantage.
This can be seen already in the life sciences industry, where whole city districts are devoted to biopharmaceutical R&D, commercialization and even production. These companies want access to their customers, higher education institutions and workers preferring an urban work experience to one confined to a distant campus or science park. Smart cities knew they were coming and made an inventory of suitable space available to them.
Another way to think of Smart Cities can be found in this issue: the metros that appear in the 2022 Sustainability Rankings. They rise to the top of an index of several criteria that make them attractive to capital investors for environmental reasons that are becoming more important all the time, including to their employees.
Here’s a different take on Smart Cities: How about applying the term to the metros worldwide that clearly are successful at attracting investment in the industries that are shaping the future, like biotech, AI, healthcare, data analytics and ICT? We can apply some objective measures to narrow the list — lots of entities already rank metros on Smart City attributes already mentioned here and on their attractiveness to workers deemed necessary.
But what would happen if we added quality-of-life measures to the mix, which are less tangible but no less important? Does the city prioritize public safety? Are its criminal prosecutors serious about law enforcement? Is it taking measures to make housing affordable and convenient to talent? Is the local business community engaged in improving and marketing the city to outside investors? While less tangible, these are factors cities do have control over.
If a city leader can’t reply affirmatively to these questions, that city isn’t smart.
Till next time,
Mark Arend, Editor in Chief