Book Review: Smart Cities, Smart Future, Showcasing Tomorrow

Let’s take an imaginary stroll down Wall Street together: Starting on Water Street by the Andaz, we can make our way along the famous Promenade. The smell of money will fill our noses as we pass the House of Morgan with century-old bomb damage still there on the stone wall. And as we pass the New York Stock Exchange, we’ll close our eyes and imagine the great Financier Bernard Baruch stepping out and smiling as he counts his millions.

Yes – it’s quite a journey along this Mecca of Finance – except for one problem: It's all a mirage. Nobody makes money on Wall Street anymore – except maybe the La Colombe coffee shop. The House of Morgan has been abandoned, leaving mice to scamper along its once majestic floor. And the Stock Exchange has devolved to a fancy business reception hall, where start-ups sip wine from plastic glasses after ringing the fake bell.

So, we all know that cities change – and New York is certainly no exception. But what is the new mission of our cities, and how can we better understand the implications of this change? I had these urban questions in mind as I clicked to purchase Smart Cities, Smart Future, Showcasing Tomorrow, written by my friend Mike Barlow and his co-author Cornelia Levy-Bencheton. Here’s what I learned after spending an evening devouring its pages:

First, the basic thesis of the book is that the most successful cities of the future will be much smarter – and that this is both welcome and exciting. The authors explain that our best cities will make use of data more intelligently, will integrate technology more appropriately, and will serve as role models for public-private partnership. And all of this will be centered on the notion of open interfaces for the systems that serve to power our great cities.

The book also paints a picture of future cities in motion, where mobility extends from the devices in our hands to everything urban citizens do. This includes smarter solutions for handing congestion, better opportunities for ride sharing, and some interesting predictions about autonomous cars. (The authors cite studies that show citizen hesitation for fully autonomous vehicles today. I think this will change – but that’s just me.)

Day-to-day life in our future smart cities will include the streamlined use of technology and collected data to minimize the bureaucracy, and maximize the matching of citizens to services for which they qualify. Such services will range from health, to housing, to education, to justice, and on and on. Obviously, the devil-will-be-in-the-details and proper execution will rely on good leadership. But this all sounds pretty good to me. Count me in.

And what are some example of cities leading the way on this transition to smarter, more open, and safer cities? Well, Amsterdam is there. And I see Copenhagen. And, of course, there is Tel Aviv, Melbourne, and Moscow. (Moscow?). Oh, and yes – New York is on the list, which is good news for me, since I am seated in my cool WeWork office on Fulton Street as I type these words. I’m glad I’m writing this review in a smart damn city.

As you’d expect, I wondered about the cyber security of all this urban intelligence, and the authors had some interested predictions. My favorite prediction they made is their view of the role of Smart City CISO – a position that they posit to be particularly important and challenging. One objective, for instance, will be to ensure that all the open interfaces to smart city systems are properly monitored and secured. Sounds like a good job to me.

If there is one thing I’d have liked to see in the book, it would be perhaps some more visual graphics. I tend to learn from pictures and the book certainly has a lot of words. So, maybe in some future edition, the authors can add a few more diagrams, charts, and other illustrations for data geeks like me. But in the meantime, I hope you’ll grab a copy and spend some time peering into the smart cities we’ll enjoy in the future. It’s a good read.

Let me know your thoughts after you finish the book.