There are cities in Europe doing some intelligent things, such as Amsterdam with its Smart City partnership, Stockholm with its Hammarby Sjöstad eco-development and Barcelona with its OpenData portal and various other urban information and communications technology (ICT) initiatives. However, Europe doesn’t yet have a truly smart city – one that fully integrates ICT infrastructure and services on a city-wide basis to deliver services to the citizen. With increasing urbanisation and significant environmental, social and economic challenges, Europe’s cities need to work better and with less. 

Integrated ICT systems and services will help the cities be smart in the way they operate. A wide range of disruptive technologies will contribute to this. The cloud, the Internet of Things, mobile internet, electric and autonomous vehicles, advanced robotics, energy storage and renewable energies will all be part of future cities. 

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The key issue, however, is not about the shiny new kit going into the cities. The biggest challenge will be about the people using it. Because of the maturity of European cities, they can’t really start from scratch and produce super smart cities from greenfield sites. Instead, they will have to modify the existing city infrastructure and systems. This means having to work across the many different silos of service delivery, and this will take people way out of their comfort zone. The art of getting people to work together for a common purpose will be just as important as the science of infrastructure delivery.

This is exciting, though, as a new market is being created, with new partnerships, innovative funding arrangements and new value chains emerging. Smart cities are going to be a big business and a great opportunity for Europeans to go global with their new products and services. 

Douglas Clark is director of Location Connections, a site selection and FDI consultancy. E-mail: douglas@locationconnections.com