Cities are both a key enabler of productivity and economic development, and essential to the social and political wellbeing of individuals and society, as the place that most people now call ‘home’.
However, there are many problems in cities that are inhibiting economic growth and social and environmental justice and equality. Traffic congestion is a huge problem worldwide and costs national economies billions of pounds each year. In the UK alone, traffic cost the economy £31bn in 2016. Poor housing conditions, leading to greater need for healthcare services, also put a huge strain not only on people’s lives but also on local and national healthcare systems. Growing populations and changing demographics - for example, an increasingly youthful population in many African cities, and an increasingly ageing population in much of Europe - is already beginning to put a lot of strain on public services and the built environment. The global housing crisis is just one expression of this.
The smart city concept is one reaction to the growing challenges that urban centers face - from environmental degradation, to increasing economic inequalities, to growing populations that overstrain and exhaust social and physical infrastructure - as it aims to improve the operational, service and energy efficiency of cities and render them better places to live for all.