The Global View

How smart can cities really become by 2020?

Sci Fi CityCities — and the people who live in them — could be a lot healthier, safer, cleaner and smarter in the next decade, thanks to a variety of emerging technologies. But that prediction begs a question: will those innovations be affordable to most of the world’s mega-cities, or only to the fortunate few in the developed world?

IBM this week put out a list of five innovations that “have the potential to change how people live, work and play in cities around the globe over the next five to ten years.” They include:

  • “Health internets” that will make it easier for public officials to track and manage disease outbreaks;
  • Smart buildings with networked systems that enable them to respond to changing conditions quickly and automatically, almost like living organisms;
  • A transportation system dominated by zero-emissions vehicles and readily available electric-car charging stations;
  • Smart water and sewer systems that will reduce waste and pollution; and
  • Real-time, integrated data on crime and potential crises that will help officials respond quickly … or even proactively (shades of “Minority Report,” anyone?).

All these sound like promising developments — and certainly goals to be aspired to, especially now that most of the world’s population lives in cities. But given the current economy and the trend of many city governments now trimming budgets rather than boosting them as tax revenues fall, how likely is it we’ll see such smart cities become reality by 2020?

How smart can the world’s cities realistically become over the next decade? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.