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The world is becoming a global metropolis with an estimated 60% of the population living in cities by 2050. The “Smart Cities” movement envisions the quality of life in urban areas are sustainable, efficient and humane. Generally, a smart city is one that incorporates information and communication technologies (ICT) to meet this goal. Smart city development includes the use of smart initiatives that leverage technology investments. They are reliant on the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors and software to collect data from every imaginable aspect of infrastructure and community. The construction industry is literally building these cities, so contractors play a pivotal role in the smart city movement reaching its potential. 

The framework of Smart Cities

The centrality of technology in smart cities is essential, but what is more crucial is how technology is employed and used. Mobile devices will be the conduit for many of these technological initiatives and will be able to communicate with each other, with smart kiosks, and with yet-to-be-imagined social interactions. Mobile devices will become AI helpers to facilitate data collection and data-based decision making. 

A key indicator that cities are leaning toward a smart cities approach is build-up of foundational infrastructure, including roads, water, energy, telecommunication and transportation. Other indicators are services that increase quality of life including hospitals, educational institutions and public green spaces.

Smart cities are a global movement with examples in cities such as Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and San Francisco. Even if whole cities are unable to move quickly in this direction, shifts are occurring in places from Kansas City to provinces in China, proving that even incremental changes can help position cities to become transformed. 

Role of Construction

In 2013, Construction Executive predicted that smart cities and the convergence of government policy, emerging ICT and design will create “lucrative opportunities for the construction industry.” More than five years later, this prediction is becoming reality as construction companies have been able to acquire large contracts for development and positioned themselves as leaders in impact and change. City officials continually highlight that partnerships with construction businesses are crucial not only for the real building, but also in the decision-making process and influence of new methodology, technology and practice. Smart technologies are essential and construction firms understand the value of sustainable design, building resiliency and best options for development within the context of unique communities.

The irony is that construction, the natural leader in the smart city movement, is notoriously slow to adopt technology. In fact, under the framework of smart cities, every company should be a technology company. Failing to digitize and collaborate fully will earn the slow adaptors a place in the Analog 88—companies that have failed because of their inability to build organizational capacity for emerging technology. Companies that are unable to adopt technology will not be able to handle the workload smart cities will demand. It's not a question of whether or not to adopt a common data platform for managing these complex jobs, but when and what fits. The perceived costs of construction technology are outweighed by the opportunities building for smart cities will provide. Construction executives play a pivotal role in driving technology adoption.

Prepare to build smart

Here are a few ways contractors can be prepared for the emergence of more smart cities.

  1. Intersectionality and collaboration: Construction companies should be thinking of connections between all stakeholders. In smart cities, those who live in the surrounding community but may not ever live in a high-rise are considered stakeholders, as they share the same space.
  2. Move quickly: The pace of technology is fast. Things that exist now did not exist five years ago. Companies have to be agile and pivot when needed. There is a lot of unknown, and that can make some anxious; executives and leaders can help mitigate that stress by being open to change and committed to watching trends and how they affect the industry.
  3. Transparency: Technology is a central feature in smart cities because of the way that data has to be captured, analyzed and used. The purpose is to increase transparency through real-time data shared among collaborators such as private businesses, government agencies and communities. The more transparent a company, the more trust and future business it will encourage.
  4. Future-proof: Construction companies need to be able to future-proof, and cities need to select software that receives data from all sources including IOT sensors. This provides a full 360-degree view of data to monitor, react and improve quality of life. Technology should not be thought of in a static context. Companies should expect technology to change, integrate and even sometimes to shift to accommodate innovations.
the sky’s the limit

The only limits of cities of the future are the imaginations of those who are building them. What can be predicted is that these cities will look, function and interact very differently from the current built environment. Construction firms can either wait to become irrelevant as digital natives continue to set the expectations for smart cities, or they can lead this movement and have a significant impact.


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