3 Keys to Building the Smart City of Tomorrow

Take a walk through Barcelona – or maybe ride one of the 6,000 bikes provided by its "El Bicing" sharing program – and you'd be struck by how technology is integrated into the day-to-day lives of the its citizens and visitors. You would see signs promoting ubiquitous public Wi-Fi and energy-saving initiatives. Maybe you'd even see evidence of Barcelona being the host city of the Smart Cities Expo World Congress.

Barcelona has, for years been a pioneer ‘smart city’ – a city that uses technology to improve and sometimes transform its infrastructure and public services. From transportation, housing, energy, healthcare, to food… cities around the world want to emulate Barcelona’s success.

With this in mind, The Guardian last week hosted a livechat "Who Makes a Smart City?" which provided insights on how to build a smart city. We took away three important lessons that will help urban areas around the globe transform into connected communities.

1. Start at the Bottom and Work Up

Building a smart city requires buy in from government leaders, private interest groups and citizens themselves. The citizens, in particular, tether a city together and define its unique identity – that's why their role is also so critical in building smart cities.

Getting citizens on board with Smart City initiatives can be a challenge. As Yodit Stanton, founder and CEO of, explained in the chat, "We have learned from past technology failures that large projects are doomed but breaking down projects into bite-size pieces often works better."

Citizens will ultimately feel more connected to, and provide critical support for, these "bite-size" initiatives – those that they care about and understand intimately. For smart cities to succeed, a bottom-up, grassroots approach is generally better.

2. Educate citizens

A key part of getting buy-in from the public involves community leaders providing them with an overall vision for a future city. As mayors in some of the top smart cities have done, leaders must not only make a business case for smart cities, but also to clearly explain the value of these technologies to citizens themselves.

As UCL lecturer Adam Dennett said in the Guardian chat, smart cities that don't actually serve citizens are "little more than a marketing tool for big business." Technological literacy, facilitated by municipal leaders, is critical if citizens are to take full advantage of new technologies.

3. Meet Data Processing Demand

The first step in building connected cities is to develop a foundational infrastructure upon which new Internet of Things (IoT) technology can be built. This means replacing strained legacy solutions to enable the more robust data processing that is required to support growing amounts of data traffic and prevent costly disruptions.

Take, for example, a connected sensor that monitors traffic conditions and feeds that information back to commuters via a mobile application. If a sensor loses its network connection, the service is disrupted and citizens aren't able to tap into the benefits of real-time traffic monitoring This means a return to poor traffic management, lower air quality and, ultimately, lower standards of public health.

The more nations around the globe invest in modern Information and Communication Technologies to fuel interconnectivity in urban areas, the greater the role data centres will play in allowing intricately connected structures to smoothly link together, and ultimately, in keeping the cities thriving.

To learn more, read the transcript of The Guardian's recent livechat, "Who Makes a Smart City?" You can also listen to a live recording of our webinar, "Data Centres at the Heart of Tomorrow's Smart Cities."