Smart Cities are being DISRUPTED – Embrace it !!!


Disruption has somehow become part of our vocabulary and part or our life. Finding a company or a sector being disrupted is now the new normal.

Stories of companies like Kodak, who invented Digital photography and was paradoxically disrupted by it, or sectors like Mobile phones, now smartphones – are part of our collective memory.

Smart Cities even being a pretty recent concept, still evolving, is already being disrupted by emerging technologies and new ways to think of organizations.

The vision for Smart Cities has been dominated by sensors and intelligent command and control centres that use them to make it more “efficient”, well … not the case ! Smart Cities are also being disrupted !!!

In fact, new technologies such as self-driving cars or distributed energy are strongly emerging with the promise to change the way we move and how we live.

Self driving cars also imply the raising on sharing transport offerings with the sudden availability of part of the large space now devoted to cars, but not only that, also a more efficient society where distances will become effectively shorter, less polluted cities that translate to longer lives and less energy consumption where much of this money now devoted to energy can be directed to better uses.

All this translates into fleets of cars, busses and pods that we can call on demand and will be there in almost nothing bringing us from door to door in a shared or individual transport while we use electric or normal bikes for short distances in liveable cities full of green. Car makers will have to rethink themselves from being in the automotive industry to seeing themselves as transport providers if they want to survive, because yes we will do more with less, less cars.

Simulations show that we can claim almost 2/3 of the space actually devoted to cars with these new arrangements. But implications go far beyond that, to our health, longevity and happiness.

Not only transport and energy, the whole concept of work is also changing. The eruption of the gig-economy is to great extend responsive of this. Nobody expected this flourishing of co-working spaces replacing traditional companies, but it is there and with it came new needs, new social habits and a transformation of our social life.

The implications of co-working spaces on transportation and city density are not a secret all. People tend to choose co-working spaces nearby home in nice, central neighbourhoods instead of suburbs, quarters where all this activity also serves to transform them into more liveable and vibrant areas that many times start a transformative circle that changes them completely. 

Platforms, not only for transportation like über but also for logging such as airbnb or services such as fiverr are also transforming many sectors such as tourism to a more intimate, liveable experience. For example airbnb lowers the requirements for being part of the accommodation industry, effectively democratising it. Most of us can put a room, an apartment for rent and become “hotels”. This changes not only the experience of the traveller from the boring, standard hotels to the diversity of offers of private people but also enriches the economic fabric making for distributed hotels where even low income people become entrepreneurs enjoying the benefits of the process.

Changes not only relate to what Cities do or how they do it. The “distributed org” of the 80s is now in the web and became the meta-org based on platforms. There has also been a tremendous amount of change on how organisations relate and interact with their clients. This model is well represented by organisations such as Amazon or Apple, with a very few, very central cool flagship stores but where the action is in the web.

However cities are still bureaucratic, XXL-fat organisations trying to be close to their citizens by having offices around the City in a time when close means the web, when close means in your pocket – in your smartphone. We all had the experience where public organisations devote lots of people and resources to make very complicated bureaucratic procedures understandable, instead of streamlining them, moving them to the web, closing these centres and using the money and the people to the really urgent needs that cities suffer.

Not only that ! In many cases the city that we live is no longer the administrative city. Transportation systems either public or private allow us to move through larger areas many times comprising several cities and encompassing several public institutions erected to coordinate them.

Wouldn’t be simpler to make this macro urban area the real and admin city that effectively is? Getting rid of all the coordination organisations, redundancies, … Simple but extremely useful things will come from it, like a single interface to pay everything, request anything, …  no matter where you were.

Some will argue that we have to preserve the political idiosyncrasy of each small city and this could be true, but doesn’t interfere with streamlining the procedures and simplifying the interaction consolidating the management and making the administrative city match the real city.

Cities – smart or not – are being disrupted and this is only the beginning of what is going probably to be a long process. Cities cannot and should not try to ignore these changes neither attempt to block the inevitable (e.g. as Spain did with Über … ) but align existing laws and regulations and create new ones that match the times, towards the public good embracing disruption.

Stopping the inevitable is always a really bad idea – collaborating and shaping it is a much better approach. Let’s embrace disruption ! … because disruption is inevitable …