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Cities that leverage data, partnerships and emerging technologies can best adapt to changing citizen expectations, a new report found.
Cities that are future-ready have clear long-term visions, plans for transformation and an ability to meet changes in residents’ behaviors, a new study finds.
“We defined a future-ready city as one that is smart, sustainable, inclusive, prosperous, and resilient, with the ability to meet the evolving needs of citizens and businesses,” according to “Building a Future-Ready City,” a Nov. 15 report by research firm ThoughtLab and Hatch, an engineering, project management and professional services company. It’s based on a study of 200 cities worldwide, a survey of 2,000 residents of those cities, interviews with city leaders and urban experts, and data from secondary sources.
The researchers found that Boulder, Colorado; Salt Lake City; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and California’s Santa Clara and Berkeley are the most future-ready U.S. cities. Boulder also made the top 10 most future-ready cities globally.
The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted both the struggles and potential of cities, the report pointed out. It raised public expectations in almost all areas, especially those related to behaviors that changed during the public health crisis: access to online education, greater access to online government services and digital payment for government services. For instance, 85% of city leaders said they expect people to access services online more often.
Another change among cities is the amount of data they have. Specifically, biometric and internet-of-things data are now table stakes, the report stated. Nine out of 10 cities use biometric data such as fingerprints or facial recognition, and the same percentage uses administrative data to help manage programs and services. Eighty-one percent of respondents said their city actively uses IoT to manage assets such as roads, streetlamps and water supplies. Crowdsourced and geospatial data are the least used (43% and 34%, respectively), but leaders expect that to increase as much as 37 and 24 percentage points, respectively.
At the same time, cities are getting better at data management. Ninety-nine percent of leaders said they’ve made significant progress with analyzing data, while 91% see improvement in gathering data and 82% in ensuring data quality. Overall, citizens support cities’ data use, the report noted. For instance, 87% of people said they feel positively or neutral about general use of data.
Priority areas for data progress in the next five years include using data to inform real-time and evidence-based decisions and making data accessible across departments and to the public.
Still, cities have their work cut out for them. “Although data will be the lifeblood of cities of the future, many municipalities are lagging on the data front,” the report stated. “Only half have staff with the necessary data analytics skills. Even fewer use data to achieve their social, environmental, and economic goals.”
Future-ready cities are better than others at using data to meet their goals. For example, 45% of future-ready cities vs. 31% of others share and use data across jurisdictional boundaries, while half of future-ready cities and 44% of others have an appropriate budget for data management. Recognizing the need to better use data, leaders predict that they’ll make significant progress with it in the next five years.
City leaders also identified an average of 10 technologies that they say will be most important to becoming future-ready. The top five are automation (90%), artificial intelligence (89%), electronic vehicles (86%), data analytics (84%) and mobile (83%). The technology with the fewest responses was geospatial (31%).
The report noted that emerging market cities are leapfrogging advanced ones in the use of what it calls game-changing technologies. For instance, 66% of emerging market cities use blockchain, compared to 42% in advanced markets.
To assess the future-readiness of cities, the study investigated each city’s progress across several domains, including digital infrastructure, transportation and living and health. The study was sponsored by Axis Communications, Cognizant, Dassault Systèmes, Dell, Deloitte, GM, Intel, JLL Technologies, Kearney, NTT and Visa.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.