The idea of “smart cities” has rapidly evolved from fanciful future notion to impending reality. A few years ago, we imagined a time when technologies of all kinds would seamlessly connect to make cities run more smoothly, more safely, and more sustainably. In a very short time though, these cities have actually started to materialize around us.
This doesn’t mean we have the kind of gleaming, ultra-efficient, tech-based super cities some of us imagine we’ll see a little further into the future. But there are certainly urban areas big and small that are embracing the technologies that will start us along that path. In this post we want to look at a few of these cities, and how they’re poised to lead the way in the next wave of smart city innovation.
#1. Boulder, Colorado
Back in the mid-2010s, Inc. referred to Boulder, Colorado as a town that had become “America’s startup capital” — a pretty bold claim around the same time that mobile tech companies and social media startups were taking over Silicon Valley. And yet, the online magazine made some compelling points about the eclectic blend of entrepreneurs that had taken over the beloved mountain town. Several years down the line, meanwhile, Boulder still stands out as a hub for innovation and an early leader in smart city evolution.
Boulder in fact was the first city in the country to implement a “smart energy grid,” which was built into the town by Xcel Energy. It didn’t go smoothly, but the energy company has since refined the grid, providing Boulder with the foundation for expansive smart city innovations and applications.
This setup, coupled with a strong culture in favor of sustainability and a reputation for attracting inventive, tech-oriented entrepreneurs, makes for the perfect storm. Whatever happens with smart cities moving forward, Boulder will be leading the way and setting examples.
#2. Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles makes our list for a number of reasons that are fairly easy to guess. It’s a gigantic city full of young professionals; it has every incentive to work toward smart solutions for mobility, sustainability, and general efficiency; and it’s become more prominent on the tech scene than some realize (given that its in-state neighbor of Silicon Valley attracts all of the attention in this space).
Beyond these core factors though, LA is also a city to watch for smart city innovation because it’s become a clear leader in the race for 5G network coverage, which is ultimately a key building block for true smart cities as we envision them.
Listing ‘5 Things to Know About 5G Networks’ in the past, we mentioned that they’ll help to bring about self-driving cars. But the truth is that’s only the beginning of what these networks will do to make our cities smarter. They’ll also help with everything from optimizing traffic patterns, to managing waste, to improving public safety and security. And as stated, LA is streaking out in front in establishing widespread 5G coverage. According to rankings by TechRepublic in fact, LA is second in the world (to Seoul, South Korea) in established 5G networks. This alone gives the city a leg up in the smart city discussion.
#3. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids, Iowa is not a place most people think of when imagining booming new businesses or innovative tech development. But there is actually some evidence to suggest it could become another smart city leader. First and foremost, it’s an easy and appealing place to start new businesses in. ZenBusiness states that Iowa’s requirements for new business registration are both straightforward and easy.
Tech entrepreneurs — who often opt for limited liability companies for their favorable tax structures and protections — can set up LLCs with the state with just a few quick hours of work. And once that’s done, they find themselves operating in a city with easy access (the Cedar Rapids airport travels to much of the country) and a very low cost of living compared to other Midwest startup hubs like Milwaukee or Chicago.
Those factors all speak to why Cedar Rapids has become something of a hidden gem for startups in general. But we also know that tech innovation specifically is taking hold in this mid-sized Iowa city. According to a look at Cedar Rapids business by The Gazette, the city ranked 15th out of 42 Midwestern cities when they were assessed for startup activity.
This ranking was due primarily to tech companies in town, which were noted as having shown “noteworthy” growth over the last decade. This growth coupled with the conditions noted above should only lead to more tech innovation, and inevitably forays into smart city innovation.
#4. Miami, Florida
Miami rounds out our list for two main reasons. The first is that it also featured on the aforementioned list of the world’s leading cities in 5G rollout. In fact, Miami ranked fourth, behind only Seoul, Los Angeles, and London (and notably ahead of massive and innovative cities like Hong Kong, Dubai, New York, and Guangzhou).
The other reason Miami makes our list though is that it’s another city that has become a go-to destination for entrepreneurs and young workers. As a CNBC report on movement to Florida put it, businesses and people alike are “flocking” to the state — and Miami specifically — for its favorable tax situation and lifestyle.
What all of this means is that Miami is attracting entrepreneurs who want a high-class, progressive lifestyle in an area with no income taxes — even as 5G is spreading and influencing tech development. The result, inevitably, will include a great deal of effort toward making the city smarter.
Numerous cities beyond these will help to advance the smart city concept over the course of the next several years and even decades. These examples figure to be among the innovators though and demonstrate the variety of potential smart city leaders around the United States.