Preparing Cities for the Future

By Tony DeLisi, Vice President

The future comes more quickly every day. Technologists often describe this phenomenon as an exponential growth curve – with each technological advancement building on the previous advancement and occurring at an ever-increasing rate.Facing rapid change, it can be difficult for cities to anticipate and adapt to new economic forces. Communities that do not invest in their technological infrastructure, education systems, and quality of place, however, risk being left behind in the years ahead.

Technological Infrastructure – Smart Cities and aligned Internet of Things (IoT) technologies encompass interconnected systems of “smart” devices that record conditions in the real world, communicate information to each other, and adapt systems accordingly. In your home, this might involve your phone sending a signal to your home letting it know about your immenient arrival; your home then responding by adjusting the thermostat temperature and unlocking the front door as your approach. In a Smart City, the technology could enable street lights to brighten to an appropriate level based on environmental factors such as cloudy skies or an approaching storm. They also might alert autonomous vehicles in the area to prepare for wet conditions and drive accordingly.

This technology exists today, and regions like Toronto, ON, Jacksonville, FL, and Columbus, OH, are testing devices and systems to figure how best to harness the potential efficiencies they present. Other cities are exploring how to safely integrate autonomous vehicles with existing transportation systems and how to expand high-speed broadband access to all residents. The economic success of these technology infrastructure initiatives can be seen in communities like Chattanooga, where a decision to invest in broadband created their Gig City identity – offering the fastest, most expansive gigabyte internet service in the country and spurring rapid startup growth.

These are just a few examples of how cities are investing in technological infrastructure. One thing they share in common is a reliance on secure, shared data and increased technological knowhow for their development and maintenance. The need to protect these infrastructure systems and data from hacking is driving growth in cybersecurity for cities and exploration of how blockchain technology can be used to connect citizens and their information with these networks.

Education Systems – The increasing complexity of technological devices and systems is creating new skills requirements across industries. Automated and robotic systems have replaced many repetitive, simple job tasks and are increasingly replacing more complex and dangerous ones as well. But automated systems do not operate in a vacuum – they are developed, programmed, and serviced by human beings. Human beings that require more advanced and ever-evolving training and skills to do these jobs than previous generations.

Parallel to automation’s effects on manual jobs, artificial intelligence is changing knowledge jobs. Advancements in software are allowing AI systems to analyze data, solve problems, and replace a variety of thought-based tasks previously performed by humans. Although popular media reports on automation often emphasize the potential elimination of jobs, a more immediate impact will be the transformation of existing professional roles. There are many tasks that will still require humans, and experts predict that AI and humans will produce new opportunities by working in tandem – complementing each other’s unique abilities. For example, marketing firms will use AI to analyze consumer patterns, while humans develop creative content and strategies to reach the consumers hearts. As with automation, this will require new skills and training – focused on the interface between humans and AI.

Success will come to those communities developing education systems that prepare their children and adults for these new jobs. This means developing flexible training programs that blur the line between employers and educators – continuously adapting to the latest technologies and re-empowering individuals with the skills they need to work with them. Like today, in the future, communities that make smart investments in their citizens will be most able to sustain themselves.

Quality of Place– Investing in talent also means investing in quality of place. For many jobs, technological advancements are reducing the physical ties to geographic location. Many engineers, software programmers, designers, financial advisers, and other professionals no longer need to live and work in the same location as their clients. Highspeed internet, video conferencing, and even virtual reality can allow people to provide services over long distances at low cost. As a result, individuals in these and other careers are increasingly deciding where to live and work based on quality of life instead of traditional business location factors.

In this paradigm, a city’s desirability as a place to live will become ever more important. To retain skilled residents, cities must listen to the needs of residents. Invest in quality of life amenities that appeal to residents as well as the type of talent that you hope to attract into your community in the future.

Making these investments will not be easy, but the writing on the wall is clear – cities must innovate or stagnate. The future is not certain, but change is. The nature of this change will look different in every community, but the most successful cities will be those that look their future in the face and engage with their residents and businesses to develop collaborative solutions to challenges.