Future of Cities
Here is an (ongoing) Inovia blog series about the future of cities.
Cities are increasingly the economic and social centers of the world, with some major cities having larger populations and economies than some countries. Most of the large scale technology disruption we have seen in the last fifty years has either been below the level of city integration (i.e. silicon, displays, components) or have been pan-city (i.e. the internet, the web, social networks, search, cellular). More recently we have seen technologies directly challenge legacy city systems (i.e. taxi’s), but more often IoT and advanced software is being used to make existing systems more efficient - it has been more additive than disruptive.
At Inovia we believe this is going to change. As digital systems and digital strategies start to fully integrate with physical systems, a great deal of infrastructure (both physical and virtual) is going to be reinvented and truly disrupted. As this trend progresses, the evolution of cities will accelerate, with the time between innovation cycles reducing. This is a great opportunity for cities to become more “people first” (a core value at Inovia), as opposed to simply becoming “smart”. Here are a few ways we’re looking at this evolution:
- City governance can be a slow and painful experience. As software enables better citizen engagement, more dynamic discussion, and faster decision making, many moribound city processes will improve: permits, private-public projects, zoning changes and exceptions, affordable housing and other building initiatives. The common forms of city governance (mayor-council, council-manager, and commission) will evolve as more efficient, comprehensive and meaningful citizen input arrives through new software structures.
- Infrastructure, from roads and railways to buildings and services, will evolve as software eliminates the need for a lot of legacy systems (i.e., traffic lights, parking meters), as new energy and water systems decentralize utilities, and as public spaces are reclaimed (roads, parking structures) and made more efficient use of. While this infrastructure is being reinvented it will become much more dynamic (i.e. easy to update / change) than what we have today. Re-routing trains, reconfiguring buildings, and demand-based configurations will become the norm.
- Services, which often sit in an uneasy balance between private and public, will rebalance. Energy, water, garbage, and sewage may become much more competitive with value added features (for example, as solar reaches more and more locations). Health care may see more city involvement, as larger governments prove unable to improve the systems and cities deal with the fallout (extreme homlessness and lack of mental health support systems).
- Innovation on top of city data will accelerate. More cities will launch open data services, and ensure that operators in the city do not hoard and misuse public data. Cities may be the first place where user-centric models of data ownership are enforced, and where large data-siloes are not allowed to grow into unassailable moats.
- Well-being, social interactions, and community services and events will continue to improve. “Social” networks with business models and reputation systems that are resilient to toxic interactions will emerge, better merging online/offline interactions, and truly adding value to neighborhoods and close communities of interest.
- Safety and security will change as IoT devices, and the services on top of them, are connected, extended, and augmented. Today’s silos (not only between existing services, but also between physical and digital security approaches) will break down, and new structures will emerge. The balance between privacy and security will become more clear, and cities will help to keep technology companies honest in their approaches to this tradeoff.
Many of these innovations will not arise from improvements to existing structures - better full-size cars do not improve congestion or challenge the “car first” culture of many cities; it is unlikely that Facebook focuses on small city-centric social networks and builds a business model not based on ads; entrenched utility interests are unlikely to fully embrace decentralized energy where they lack their traditional control - but will instead emerge from brand new systems. This presents unparalleled opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors.