What makes a city smarter than another? A location earns technical smart city status by using information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, sharing information with the public and improving the quality of government services and citizen welfare. That said, even the technical definition can be vague, and residents may consider one type of tech innovation as more of a priority than another.
What, for instance, do people most want technologically advanced in their city? Which cities do they feel are well on their way? How do people connect emotionally to the concept of a smart city in the first place? After speaking to more than 1,000 people living in U.S. towns and cities, we have the answers to all of these questions and more. Keep reading to see what locals had to share.
Neighborly pulse check on smart infrastructure
The study began by asking respondents to share their level of interest in smart city features, which we then compared against generation. We also asked about the specific elements people felt were crucial to their city's future.
The majority demonstrated a sincere interest in their cities going smart, with Gen Z being the most fervent. Nearly three-quarters of those under the age of 25 and 61.7% of millennials considered themselves interested in smart cities. Most agreed adopting smart city strategies would improve the quality of life for its residents "a lot" or "greatly." Very few—just about 1%—thought smart advancements wouldn't help at all.
Hallmarks of a smart city
So what exactly constitutes a smart city? Since the technical definition is a bit obscure, we wanted to give respondents a chance to list their particular priorities as well as who they felt should be in charge of implementing such changes.
Smart cities are in the very near future—or perhaps even the present—according to Americans. More than a quarter estimated fully realized smart cities within the next three to five years, and another 35% expected them sooner than a decade. Mostly, they were hoping these smart advances would prioritize safety (65.4%), technology (59.9%) and transportation (56.5%).
A key priority for the Gen Z residents of these new cities is the acceptance of cryptocurrency as legal tender. Fortunately for this group and the 11.6% of respondents overall who prioritized cryptocurrency, several cities in the U.S. are already popping up as cryptocurrency hot spots. San Francisco, Miami, New York and Portsmouth all boast dozens of merchants accepting Bitcoin, cryptocurrency conferences and other crypto-friendly endeavors.
Perhaps not every citizen felt cryptocurrency should be a top priority, but more than a third agreed that it was an important development for cities to begin accepting digital currencies. Though being older appeared to have an adverse effect on a person's interest in crypto, even 23.7% of baby boomers agreed it was a key advancement for a city today.
Smart city contractors
So who should be responsible for actually building the smart cities and implementing all of these developments? Here, we ask respondents which companies they would trust to take care of things.
While we previously saw most people expected local or state governments to be in charge of city planning, going private wasn't entirely off the table. Apple and Amazon were the top contenders for companies who could construct new smart cities, with Microsoft not far behind. Clearly, tech conglomerates were front-runners, but Meta only had support from 15.4% of respondents.
Data privacy within smart cities was also a concern among residents, but they were often willing to forfeit this privacy in the name of quick emergency responses (48.8%), public building security (44.6%) and secure businesses (42.2%). More than a third were even willing to give up data privacy for having less traffic or more advanced parking infrastructure. Still, more than half of respondents mentioned concern for technological advances possibly leaving some residents behind.
Guessing the next smart city
We closed our research with a look into the future. Which cities, in particular, did respondents think had the greatest potential to become a smart city? Below are their top 15 most common responses in the U.S.
Those queried estimated New York City and Los Angeles to remain strongholds for smart city potential. More than 1 in 3 respondents posited one or both of these two areas. Thirty-six percent also mentioned Austin. New York's population has certainly been in a state of flux since the pandemic, with record numbers of people both leaving and coming. Los Angeles and Austin share similar moving-based statistics.
Noticeably absent was Miami, Florida, which NPR (among others) has called a front-runner for America's crypto-capital. Miami, the first to create its own cryptocurrency called MiamiCoin, plays host to hundreds of tech conferences each year and has earned the status of a top emerging U.S. tech city.
Even with the breakneck speed of technological advancements, most respondents felt excited and ready for their cities to get smarter. They demonstrated a high amount of interest and hoped to see changes for things like safety and efficiency. They also shared concerns that some technologies may leave many of their residents behind.
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Methodology and limitations
This study uses data from a survey of 1,004 Americans. Survey respondents were gathered through the Amazon Mechanical Turk survey platform where they were presented with a series of questions, including attention-check and disqualification questions. Participants incorrectly answering any attention-check question had their answers disqualified. 48.7% of respondents were men, while 50.6% were women. Less than 1% of respondents identified as nonbinary or other. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 77 years old with an average age of 39. Gen Zers accounted for 16.4% of respondents, millennials for 38.4%, Gen Xers for 28.7% and baby boomers for 16.5%. This study has a 3% margin of error on a 95% confidence interval.
Please note that survey responses are self-reported and are subject to issues such as exaggeration, recency bias and telescoping.
Fair use statement
Smarter cities are born out of research and momentum like this article. If you'd like your area to get smarter or know someone who would benefit from the findings of this study, you are welcome to share the information. Just be sure your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page.