The 3 Biggest Obstacles Smart Cities Face & How They Can Be Overcome

Truly smart cities resolve challenges before they ever even appear

Across the globe, cities are seeking to resolve some of their most pressing, modern-day challenges by becoming smart cities. They’re looking to become more connected, data-driven, sustainable, and economical, and the latest urban tech is poised to offer them all that – and more.

Nevertheless, embracing smart technologies and integrations often comes with its fair share of growing pains. Despite great advances in the field of smart city innovation, developers continue to be faced with several challenges that must be addressed and resolved before success can be achieved. 

Here are 3 of the biggest obstacles faced by smart cities, and what can be done to overcome them and make a city truly smart in the 21st Century.

#1 – Old infrastructure

Despite the fact that urban tech has been developing and advancing at warp speed, the infrastructure on which it hinges has more-or-less been standing unchanged for decades – if not centuries. However, to fully harness the power and value of smart city innovations, existing infrastructure for water, power, and transportation must support the technologies of today and the goals they are designed to achieve.

True, funding for new infrastructure tends to be scarce, and municipalities are already scrambling to replace old and substandard infrastructure with safer, more sustainable, and smarter solutions, but not all smart city tech requires a complete infrastructure overhaul. By developing smart city solutions with existing infrastructure in mind – like Highroad portfolio company ACiiST does by transforming lamp posts into broadband IoT assets – future-forward startups and businesses can save time and money on installation and bring their innovations to market, faster, and with less burden on municipalities. 

#2 – Data & privacy

Another threat to smart city success is digital security. On the one hand, smart cities seek to use cameras, sensors, and other data-capturing technologies to glean as much information as possible on city life and those who live within its bounds. This, to provide citizens with the best, most data-driven urban experience. Yet, at the same time, the simultaneous transmission of huge chunks of data over these internet-connected devices opens the door to data breaches and infringements on privacy rights. And even if no malicious hacking is enacted, citizens may feel as though their personal space has been invaded, making them less willing to share information of their own volition and keep the smart city space informed.

To resolve data and privacy concerns and mitigate risk, a two-pronged approach must be adopted. First, municipalities must adhere to relevant regulations, as mandated by local/federal governments, and the United Nations. This, to help strengthen data security and become more resilient in the face of potential breaches. Second, smart cities must implement a transparency policy, one that educated citizens vis-a-vis how their data is collected and used – and how it isn’t. Doing so will help foster trust and encourage information sharing, ultimately benefiting all. 

#3 – Citizen engagement

When asked what the most critical requirement for a smart city is, citizen engagement leads the pack, second only to data sharing. This of course, comes as no surprise. For smart cities to be truly “smart,” they need locals to take advantage of the technologies and infrastructure at their disposal and use them to improve their quality of life. How else will cities learn what citizens want and need in the form of city facilities, services, and information? That being said, encouraging citizens to get off their duffs and take an active role in smart city decision-making on top of engaging with the tech as they go about their daily lives is easier said than done. People are busy, stretched thin, and tend to be uninterested in extending themselves even further, even if it is in their best interests.

For this reason, creating smart cities must involve education. Teaching citizens why empowering them to state their needs rather than making top-down decisions on their behalf is key. After all, even the most open, accessible data cannot work to a smart city’s advantage, when the minds of its citizens are resolutely shut. Creatively showing locals how even the most advanced technological systems still require a (skilled) human touch goes a long way. Sending out educational emails (in a bold and engaging format), holding open meetings, and showing citizens HOW THEIR VOICE is being heard and implemented RIGHT NOW can be any smart city’s key to a door of endless possibilities.

Highroad is on a mission to help cities become smarter, smoother

Highroad Launchpad is a unique accelerator program designed to help the next generation of smart city developers optimize their offering, secure funding, and make critical connections to take the smart city space by storm. We seek to take the best and brightest startups in the fields of smart cities and urban mobility to new heights, so that they, in turn, can help municipalities overcome these and other obstacles, and create smarter, more connected cities for all.

Think your startup has what it takes to resolve the biggest smart city hurdles? Contact us about joining the next Highroad Launchpad cohort, today!