Chapter 1. Smart Cities, Smarter Citizens

In Isaac Asimov’s 1954 science fiction novel, The Caves of Steel, Earth’s cities have metastasized into huge dome-covered labyrinths, providing food and shelter—but little else—for billions of miserable inhabitants.

When Asimov wrote the novel, less than a third of the world’s population actually lived in cities. Today, more than half of us live in cities. By 2050, two-thirds of humanity will be city dwellers, and there will be more than 40 mega-cities boasting populations of at least 10 million.1

What will these cities of the future be like? Will they be lively centers of culture and innovation? Or will they be grim hubs of despair as depicted in movies like Metropolis and Blade Runner?

An Old Story Unfolding at a Faster Pace

Urbanization isn’t a new trend; the migration of people from rural to urban areas has been going on for millennia. What’s different today is the speed and scale of that migration. Three or four thousand years ago, you needed an oxcart and a brave heart to make the arduous journey from the hinterlands to the nearest walled settlement. Today, you can take an airplane from practically anywhere and arrive at the city of your choice in hours.

Why do people choose to live in cities? Here’s an official answer from the United Nations: Cities are nodes of “economic activity, government, commerce, transportation.” City life is commonly associated with “higher levels of literacy and education, better health, greater access ...

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