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Five strategic shifts cities must make to face "new reality"

Only by using advanced technologies such as urban modelling tools and artificial intelligence will cities be able to address the new round of challenges they face, says ABI Research.

Digital twin and urban modelling tools are key to creating future cities, according to ABI
Digital twin and urban modelling tools are key to creating future cities, according to ABI

Automating the design of urban environments via digital twinning software, moving from sustainable to circular economies and integrating micro-mobility or Mobility 2.0 into the transport mix are among the “strategy shifts” cities need to make, according to ABI Research.


The analyst company also warns that a shift from “safe and secure cities” to “resilient cities” and a rethinking of the urban environment through smart spaces will be required.


Cities getting smarter


In its new whitepaper, 5 Ways Smart Cities Are Getting Smarter, ABI Research highlights that while smart city tech investments will reach over $61 billion globally in 2026, most of the expenditure will be for incremental improvements.


“It is an illusion to believe that adding just a shallow layer of IoT (Internet of Things) technology to legacy urban environments will allow cities to address the urban challenges of the future, ranging from the provision of sustainable energy to the adoption of smart mobility and the construction of resilient cities,” says Dominique Bonte, vice president at ABI Research.


As they prepare to face new threats such as cyber-attacks and climate change, Bonte said this “new reality” requires new approaches, leveraging a range of new technologies to create true strategy shifts. These include:


Real-time modelling: ABI believes the first strategy shift on the horizon is holistic, real-time modelling of entire cities using digital twin technology and the automated, generative design of urban environments, “both brownfield and greenfield”.


“Modelling cities and optimising operations through digital twins is great; designing them from scratch with artificial intelligence (AI) tools is better,” said Bonte.


Safe and secure to resilient cities: This is where next-generation technologies and paradigms can be applied. Cities need to be ready and prepared for emergency events in terms of evacuation and response procedures. To make cities fully resilient, it is vital to be able to predict (with the help of advanced AI and deep learning approaches) and, whenever possible, avoid disasters.


Green and sustainable to circular cities: This involves eliminating “outside of the city” footprints entirely by achieving large degrees of self-support and self-sufficiency in areas like energy generation. Sharing, recycling, repairing, refurbishing and repurposing materials, assets, and natural resources are guiding principles of circular economies, and this represents "the endgame" for smart cities, claimed Bonte.


“It is an illusion to believe that adding just a shallow layer of IoT technology to legacy urban environments will allow cities to address future urban challenges.”


Micro-mobility or Mobility 2.0: Cities are embracing electric micro-mobility to reduce congestion and provide cleaner mobility to address air pollution. “While earlier docked, non-electric bike-sharing schemes never really took off, citizens across the globe are now massively adopting dockless electric bike and scooter sharing, and to a lesser extent electric motorbike sharing,” said Bonte. “They offer a much higher level of convenience due to their ubiquitous availability and powered operation.”


Creating smart spaces: The last strategy shift is rethinking the urban built environment through smart spaces. Many of the shifts discussed are impacting how public space is used. The most obvious example is the decommissioning and repurposing of parking lots and buildings in cities enjoying high levels of car-sharing adoption. Catering to new forms of mobility, modular roads and energy-generating roads and sidewalks are just some of the possibilities considered. The expansion and active management of green spaces is also high on the agenda of urban designers.


“Bolder, more holistic, cross-vertical and closed-loop approaches are required to optimise and maximise the potential of available resources and services,” concluded Bonte. “This can only be done by leveraging a range of very advanced technologies including, urban modelling and digital twins, AI and automation, demand-response software, edge/cloud platforms and generative design.”


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