The Internet of Cities

While technologists sing the praises of the Internet of Things, we celebrate the Internet of Cities.

Cities were the internet before there was an internet. Long before there were nations, there were cities, from Athens and Rome to Chichen Itza and Bangkok. They were the original network hubs, where talent, commerce, investment, learning and creativity converged to produce civilization. They were the centers of power and commerce and ultimately the seeds from which nations grew as roads and canals, highways and railways – the network technologies of the day –gradually expanded.

What is the Internet of Cities?

Today, cities are no less rich in in commerce, communications, trade, political power and human relationship. But ICT is transforming how they work both internally and in relation to the rest of the world.

In towns, cities and counties, ICT overlays the physical network of roads and rails with a digital one. That digital network connects organizations, individuals and – yes – devices in the Internet of Things, adding a rich layer of human and digital intelligence to the traditional infrastructure of roads and rails, seaports and airports. Well used, it can massively enhance the city’s ability to attract and engage talent and commerce, investment, learning and creativity. It also presents new challenges and tensions that must be channeled into positive use for the greatest number.

Intelligent Communities use the digital tools of that network to enhance the connections that have always made cities work: person-to-person, individual-to-organization and citizen-to-community. In a profoundly human process, they leverage technology for inclusive prosperity, for positive social change and for the enrichment of culture.

But the Internet of Cities does not stop at the municipal or county border. Using the same mix of human and digital intelligence, communities connect to each other across borders, across language and culture and legal frameworks. They find new opportunities for city-to-city exchanges of business, learning, best practices and talent. They tap the potential that technology creates to make every city, large or small, like one of the city-states of old – not just part of a nation but a player in the global economy.

“The Internet of Cities” is the theme of our 2017 Intelligent Community Awards and annual Summit.” We are exploring the ways in which the city – the original network node – is transformed by information and communications technology (ICT) and, in turn, uses ICT to make the world work better.

Closed or Open?

Before a community can join the Internet of Cities, however, it needs to answer one fundamental question. Will the place called home be closed or open?

This is a question, not about technology, but about the human spirit. In closed communities, civic leaders and citizens feel deeply that what is familiar is good and what is unfamiliar is bad. They view change as more threat than opportunity. They tend to look to the past with longing and the future with fear. All of us do these things to some extent, for we are all human, but in closed communities these natural tendencies have been amplified by history, geography and culture.

In open communities, civic leaders and citizens treasure the familiar but greet the unfamiliar with hope. They view change as inevitable, something to be managed rather than blocked. They tend to believe that the future has every chance of being better than the past. History, geography and culture contribute to these attitudes but even in places that have seen tough times, there can be a corresponding and mysterious tough-mindedness that insists on openness as a response.

Joining the Internet of Cities requires that openness. In 2005, the world for the first time had one billion internet users. It added a second billion by 2010 and a third billion by 2014. If you accept our fundamental premise about the revolutionary impact of ICT on every aspect of the economy and daily life, openness is not a choice. It is a necessity. It is an attitude to be cultivated. More than any technology trick or cluster strategy, it is what makes an Intelligent Community successful. 

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