Cities must invest more in digital and physical infrastructure to become more inclusive, resilient, sustainable and safe, according to a report released Tuesday by ThoughtLab, a marketing and economic research company, and Hatch, a consulting firm.
“Baby steps won’t be enough. To overcome today’s urban challenges, cities must become future-ready,” the report says.
The report defines future-ready cities as those that aim to become more livable, sustainable and prosperous by addressing the needs of their citizens and by building trust among people and organizations in their communities. They also collaborate and use modern communications technologies and innovative approaches to meet their goals. These cities are “well out ahead of other cities in every area of readiness,” according to the researchers.
The researchers surveyed leaders in 200 cities worldwide, including 51 in North America, and 2,000 citizens in 20 cities, including five in North America, to name the top 10 future-ready cities in North America:
- Boulder, Colorado
- Salt Lake City
- Oklahoma City
- Santa Clara, California
- Berkeley, California
- Raleigh, North Carolina
- Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
- Columbus, Ohio
ThoughtLab CEO Lou Celi said in an email that the report uncovers a few surprises:
- All the cities surveyed had long-term plans to become future-ready.
- City leaders and citizens agree that climate change is the greatest challenge facing cities, but local governments spend less of their technology budget on the environment than on other domains.
- The most future-ready cities are not necessarily those considered “smart cities.”
12 top areas of future readiness
Compared with other cities, future-ready cities are more likely to use data effectively, engage their citizens successfully, have larger budgets, invest more in digital technology, focus more on cybersecurity and “have greater decision-making autonomy from national, state, and provincial control,” the report says.
“Future-ready cities face fewer headwinds than cities that are less prepared. For example, they have already acted to reduce crime, traffic congestion, and health problems, which are much bigger problems for others,” according to the researchers.
How city leaders and citizens rank city challenges
“City officials are clearly overestimating the level of trust of their residents, a perception that could hurt them in the future as they strive to meet citizens’ growing expectations,” the report says.
In addition, city leaders indicated they are more confident about the future than citizens, with 84% of local officials in North America saying that their city is well-prepared or very well-prepared for the future compared with just 40% of citizens.
“Fewer than 1 in 5 city leaders believe that considerable or major transformation is required across most domains,” the report says. “Citizens take a much tougher line than city officials on the need for transformation: across nearly all domains, more than 4 in 10 citizens think cities need to make greater progress.”
Only 42% of citizens surveyed said their city effectively communicated its future-ready plans.