Salt Ideas Essay #7: Some day your city will be smarter than you


We’re proud to bring you the seventh of the Salt Ideas Essays: 15 pieces of expert thought leadership on the innovations and ideas that will change the world for the better. As the planet’s growing population flocks to the city, we need urban areas that are both smarter and more sustainable. By Stanley C. Gale, the brains behind the world’s first smart city.

Urbanisation is a global trend defining the lives of billions in the 21st century. According to the World Health Organisation, city dwellers in 2014 accounted for 54 per cent of the total global population, a dramatic increase from 34 per cent in 1960, and that percentage continues to grow. More than one billion people have been added to urban areas globally since 2000. It is estimated that by 2050, over 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities.

The impact of climate change and other significant environmental, economic and societal issues adds to the challenge of keeping our cities manageable and governable, while threatening their health and vibrancy. As we look to improve the future prospects for cities, how can we more effectively organise urban living for the best outcomes? How can we ensure, in fact, that cities have a future?


Cities – whether legacy cities or wholly new urban areas – must focus on being both smart and sustainable. Some might argue these are two separate ideas. In fact, the two are interdependent. Smart cities have always been looked at through the lens of economic and environmental imperatives. The smart city concept was born, according to many, during the economic crisis in 2008 and fostered by IBM, but I look back to a 2005 grant from the Clinton Foundation that challenged Cisco to innovate ways that technology can make cities more sustainable.

Smart cities have enabled green cities from the start. Our company has learned firsthand that smart and sustainable are intertwined, both on a practical and a philosophical level. We have master planned new cities in South Korea (Songdo International Business District) and China (Meixi Lake) and found that a truly “smart” city does not venerate technology in and of itself, but rather identifies and deploys technologies to ensure and bolster a vibrant quality of life.

A smart city is ever responsive to the changing needs of its residents and businesses, and supports the desire to live sustainably, which has truly permeated the consciousness of both residential and business inhabitants.


One of the fundamental elements to enable a better living and working experience is the ubiquitous deployment of technology to citizens and businesses. The challenge is identifying and integrating those technologies. In Songdo IBD, digital networks support nearly all areas of urban life, from sensors that help control traffic and public transportation schedules, to Cisco TelePresence-based personal video services linking residents to doctors, tutors and social networks, to centralised systems that manage citywide services like security and waste disposal (for example, the automated pneumatic refuse collection system that eliminates garbage trucks).

It is critical that city residents not only feel empowered but actually are empowered by these systems. For example, an underlying tech infrastructure that links building systems can facilitate positive outcomes like a dramatic reduction in energy use because individual residents themselves can monitor and moderate how they consume energy vis-a-vis other citizens. The local utility can then reward personal and commercial energy savings with rate reduction incentives. This combination of smart and sustainable, as well as the capacity for technology to continuously evolve over time to empower citizens, is what will define future cities – the successful ones, that is.


One constant concern is to ensure that a smart city does not go too far, overly intruding on and monitoring citizens’ private activities. Privacy and data security must remain bedrock principles. There are many ways to develop and integrate smart city technologies from single, small-scale applications to large-scale interventions across entire neighbourhoods and new urban developments.

Whatever their scale, the technological innovations that are user-focused (and self- directed) and intelligent without being intrusive invariably prove to be the most effective. As city-scale developers, measuring outcomes is very important. We need to focus on what works while fulfilling actual needs and enhancing the quality of life.


As the power of connected communities and the efficiency of digital networks become more and more infused into the built environment the outlook for cities is bright. We have tools to help cities be smarter, greener, more productive and liveable. We have examples of those tools generating positive outcomes in existing cities and new urban areas like Songdo. In the future, the cities that flourish will be those that adapt to the evolving paradigms of what it means to be smart and sustainable. This is the challenge of our lifetime.


– Cities must focus on being both smart and sustainable.

– Technology must enable citizens and be outcome-based.

– Privacy and data security are bedrock principles.

About Stanley C. Gale
Stanley C. Gale is chairman and CEO of Gale International, a global real estate development and investment company dedicated to creating dynamic urban environments in which people live, work and thrive. Headquartered in New York, the company serves as the principal developer of Songdo International Business District, a $35 billion smart city located in South Korea.