I’m seeing more and more writing in the press these days about the “Smart City” of the future, how great it will be, how it will solve resource problems, efficiency problems, be sustainable, etc etc etc.
Its great to see this message now getting picked up by the wider media. But a lot of these articles seem to reference mainly IBM, Microsoft and one or two others as the chief players taking us toward this Smart City.
Which raises the question: is the smart city of the future a monopoly? Is it an IBM City? A Microsoft City? Or a city with a huge mix of voices, players, agents, all interacting, cooperating and competing to provide their services to cities and residents?
Does the smart city of the future look more like the iTunes Store, or does it more like the web itself (of which the iTunes store makes up one minute fragment)?
What is the Smart City we want? What would we be best served by? And are we the ones who get to choose?
I think a few big players with some very big marketing budgets are getting good at portraying a future that is very sexy, very tidy, and, coincidentally, runs entirely on their OS. And by creating these visions of the future they are likely going to lock in a lot of city budget money around the world, which is of course their purpose.
But I see the thriving Smart City of the future as the opposite of this monopoly. I see it as the most diverse, complex, heterogeneous ecosystem of players cities have ever seen. And I think any city that locks themselves up with one player or one OS is eventually going to lose out in the race for innovation, for mindshare and for livability to other, more open cities.
So the Smart City of the future may be a monopoly in some cases. But I think those that are will lose out to those that aren’t.