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What’s the Best Way to Transform and Modernize Cities? The Debate in The Economist

I love debates, whether it is Lincoln vs. Douglas, Biden vs. Ryan, or Harry Potter vs. Twilight*. Listening to experts challenge each other’s views teaches us about a topic and makes us rethink preconceived notions. At the end of a debate you may not have changed your mind. But a good debate, at the very least, makes you question your views and concede that the other side has valid arguments.

The Economist recently held a fascinating online debate between Anthony Townsend, Research Director, Institute for the Future and Irving Wladawasky- Berger, VP Emeritus, IBM on the future of smarter cities. Both agree that data analytics technology has the potential to transform how we engage with our cities and how local agencies deliver services. However, Townsend and Wladawasky- Berger disagree on whether current approaches are actually the smartest approaches.

I encourage you to check out the full debate. In the meantime, here were my favorite insights from the participants:

Wladawasky-Berger: Be Smart, Be Patient

“Major disruptive innovations truly take off when an ecosystem forms around them that goes way beyond the vendors that stand to benefit from the initiative. When dealing with highly complex innovations in particular, it is important for universities, research labs, government agencies, professional societies and similar organizations to help drive the initiative forward through research and education programs. This was the case with the internet, parallel supercomputing, Linux and other disruptive initiatives I’ve been closely involved with. It is now happening with smart cities all over the world.”

Townsend: Smart Means Grassroots

A true smart city…is not empty hype. But, for now, there is no single place where one can see all the pieces put together. You certainly couldn’t see it at the third annual Smart City Expo in Barcelona, the industry’s trade show, held in November 2013. The real action was across town at the local Internet of Things Meetup, where over 200 makers, entrepreneurs and civic hackers gather each month to tackle the messy problems of city living. Armed only with common sense, good design and increasingly cheap and plentiful technology, they are the volunteers filling the sandbags at the front line of our digital, urban future.”

How smart will our cities be in the future? What is your agency doing to make your city smarter?

*This example is clearly an outlier. While the Harry Potter series is a literary masterpiece drawing on extensive mythological and philosophical tradition to document the complex journey of a boy who struggles with good and evil, Twilight is the ramblings of a girl obsessed with her high school boyfriend. There is no debate.

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