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Why does a city need to be smart?

By 2050, an additional 2.9 billion people will move to cities, resulting in 70 percent of the world’s population living in cities; 90 percent of this growth will be in developing economies as people are drawn by perceived economic potential.   To prosper, cities are challenged to accommodate growth arising from increased population and business activity, to create more sustainable environments that reduce local air and water pollution, meet carbon reduction targets and respect limited resources, and to remain competitive by creating the right environment for businesses to invest and citizens to experience their desired quality of life. 

The growth challenge will mean different things to different cities.  Cities coping with a large influx of people from smaller towns and the countryside need to build the infrastructure to support these people.  Established cities often seek to grow by revitalizing infrastructure in areas that have declined over the years.  Some estimates suggest that by 2030 US$ 40 trillion must be invested in urban infrastructure worldwide to keep pace with urban population growth.  

The sustainability challenge is increasingly important for cities in many parts of the world.  Cities occupy only three percent of the world’s landmass, but consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 60-80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.  And with 90 percent of the world’s urban areas situated on coastlines, cities are at high risk from some of the devastating impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels and powerful coastal storms (e.g. Hurricane Sandy recently hitting New York City).

Lastly, the challenge to remain competitive requires cities to attract and nurture investment in businesses and a skilled workforce.  Collectively, cities already account for 60 percent of global GDP, but individually they must focus on remaining competitive so that business and citizens are not attracted elsewhere.  As well as giving the right incentives in terms of ease of doing business, they must attract companies through their building, utility, communications and transportation infrastructure and services as well as an appropriately skilled workforce.  And cities must enable citizens to enjoy a quality of life aligned to their expectations.  Aside from the provision of jobs, this means appropriate entertainment and learning opportunities, comfortable residences, safe, clean communities and efficient, reliable and affordable city services for energy, water, waste, transportation.  

In response to these challenges, many cities are setting themselves goals to make improvements in sustainability, quality of life and economic growth. Becoming smart, especially in the use of energy, can play a vital role in achieving these.