The cities of today face unprecedented challenges. Rural exodus and urbanization, coupled with environmental issues such as climate change, are highlighting air quality, congestion, failing infrastructure, general wellbeing, loss of social relationship and poverty as the greatest challenges for the 21st century. To achieve carbon neutrality while ensuring the inclusion and empowerment of all citizens, new cities models are to be found.

Building the sustainable, inclusive and resilient cities of tomorrow is no easy task. Firstly, there is a multiplicity of stakeholders. “Transitioning to new city models will not be achieved without the mobilization of all the actors: the civil society, the citizens, the public and the private sector, investors, researchers…” Benedicte Faivre-Tavignot (H.88), Executive Director of the HEC Society and Organization Center, explains. The convergence of all these different actors implies new collaborations, new business and governance models. Secondly, “when it comes to cities, everything is deeply interconnected: health, employment, transportation, food, environment… hence the need to develop a holistic approach to the subject,” Lise Penillard (H.09) Executive Director of the MSc in Sustainability and Social Innovation at HEC Paris, adds.

As Bertrand Moingeon, Professor at HEC Paris and Executive Director of HEC Indian Ocean, Eastern & Southern Africa Office, points, some so-called “smart cities”, such as the new city of Masdar in Abu-Dhabi are, practically, more technologic showrooms (with a few prototype personal rapid transit systems, a photovoltaïc farm project, etc.) than real places to live. A “true” smart city (see box) should, in contrast, contribute to improving its citizens’ lives.

That is the case, for instance, for Barcelona, which has launched many useful initiatives for its inhabitants, or Fort d’Issy, a pilot project in France for energy optimization at the neighborhood level at Issy-les-Moulineaux, with an overall scope of 2,000 apartments, 5,000 residents, 10,000 employees and 1.7 million square meters of office space. A customer satisfaction survey showed that 95% of its inhabitants are happy to live in an eco-neighborhood, 67% consider that integrated domotic systems simplify their everyday life, and 70% have realized savings compared to their former housing. “Developing these kind of cities – brand new or retrofitted – requires teamwork across industries and areas of expertise at a level rarely seen in the history of business, government, or real estate development. Figuring out how to create a sensor-laden, data-driven, sustainable development requires big-thinking experts from multiple sectors to work together to break new ground – literally, as well as figuratively. City innovation starts with the imagination and drive to envision radical new possibilities, which must take shape in a complex social context – overcoming countless technical, social, and political hurdles,” Bertrand Moingeon explains. One important question, though: what or who will give the necessary impulsion to lay the basis of these cities of tomorrow? Should it come from the citizens, the governments, the corporate world?
The Transition Movement in Action

The Transition Movement, founded by Rob Hopkins, has taken the bottom-up approach: initiatives come from the communities. “We believe that they have the power to reimagine and rebuild things. Governments can do a lot but not everything. There are some things we can do faster with more impact if we work at a local scale. One of the big shifts from previous approaches is that we give communities a lot of tools and resources to shift their thinking to create a new economy that really works for everybody,” he explains. “We started Transition eleven years ago in the small town of Totnes – and it has now spread to fifty countries and thousands of places in the world. Our approach is to imagine a new economic story at the local scale, enabling the communities to own their sites – land, building, etc. – so that they invest in their development. In Totnes we have a community energy company, two community projects for housing, food projects, incubated new businesses, and an interesting web of businesses that support together.” Do big businesses have a role to play in this model? “Some of them, such as Exxon, have obviously no place in Transition. Some others launch interesting initiatives to change their model to meet COP 21 objectives on climate change. But most of them do not consider how to embed their activities in the place they operate. For instance, they have corporate responsibility programs that allow them to build schools in Kenya – this is fantastic, but what about putting more effort in the local?

In Paris, big corporations such as collective catering could have the power to change a lot of things – imagine they began to source their food locally… Or if their brilliant experts and marketing people were working on topics like local currencies. If big companies were able to change, their staff would certainly be more engaged and pleased to work for them. Google allows its employees to spend 20% of their time developing their own project – what if they devoted it to support local communities?” Rob asks. “Transition has a lot of potential. Actually, here in the UK, community energy projects and companies have already raised 23 million pounds of investment from their local communities and we count 2.5 million pounds of local currencies,” he underlines.

The impulsion can also come from the top and spread to the bottom. Inspired by Jeremy Rifkin’s Third Industrial Revolution, Luxembourg thus works to move toward a post-carbon, connected and sustainable economic model, under the initiative of its ministry of economy, its Chamber of Commerce, and IMS Luxembourg, a network of organizations committed to Corporate Social Responsibility. Last November, Luxembourg Government Council issued a strategic diagnosis and adopted nine measures designed to accelerate the transformation. They follow the traditional pillars of Third Industrial Revolution (energy, mobility, building) but also include Luxembourg specificities: a roadmap for sustainable food production, a sustainable development finance platform, and more. “We have a collaborative systemic approach. All stakeholders (end users, companies, etc.) were invited to participate in the work groups we organized on each pillar.

For instance, on the mobility subject, we discussed with architects, town-planners, and citizens to define our proposals,” Marie Sauvignon (H.00), Sustainability Practice Leader, IMS Luxembourg, explains. At this point, it is too soon to see the results of this experience, but it appears especially interesting to all observers because Luxembourg has the size of a big city but is a country, and thus controls a whole legislative arsenal, with a full capacity of action: “Luxembourg is the first country to make a national action plan,” she explains. Because, in the end, cities in transition should not remain isolated – on the contrary, they should be open and linked together, to create a coherent network, as Bertrand Moingeon, who studied the case of smart cities in Mauritius, notes. “If not the case, there is a risk that these cities increase the gaps and reinforce inequalities within a territory. So cities in transition is also a real challenge at a national level” he concludes.

The representation of the city we need is a mystery to us; now, without that vision, we mutilate urban value. The novel Frankenstein written by the English author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley describes the creation of a poor wretch. The premise is that a sum of organs could create a human being. Shelley wanted to write the best horror story and she succeeded.

“Smart” buildings, “intelligent” transportation systems and “smart” airports are all isolated projects (managed by independent departments) which leverage the use of technology to create new urban value in a city being modernized and often called a smart city. Like Frankenstein, the sum of isolated smart urban projects creates a so-called smart city!

A city is not a sum of things. Vibrant cities are a complex system of systems (and not a set of sets) which relies on economic, social and environmental interconnected values with the goal to support urban sustainability.

In the history of ideas, Aristotle was probably the first to point out that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Blaise Pascal wrote in Pensées 72, “since everything then is cause and effect, dependent and supporting, mediate and immediate, and all is held together by a natural though imperceptible chain, which binds together things most distant and most different, I hold it equally impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole, and to know the whole without knowing the parts in detail.”

Our traditional urban management fails (congestion, pollution, waste of energy) and urban governance struggles (siloed urban organisations and operations, economic pressures) because they rely on an incorrect model of representation of a “city”. Urban leaders ask the wrong question, “What is a city?” when no unequivocal answer exists and then design their city as a set of independent organisations. To find the next model for our future cities, we need to answer different questions.

What does the city do? Cities are characterised by activities, including the planning of new districts to face growing urbanisation, the reorganisation of the transport network to ease congestion, the distribution of public water and electricity to all inhabitants, environment management and providing law enforcement. These examples show that goal-directed collective actions in a city (or an urban area) cannot be managed by a single department or agency. It is a collaborative work between silos such as security and safety, transport, utilities, city mayor’s administration, government agencies and ministries, involving non-governmental organisations (NGOs), citizens, businesses, tourists, etc.

As such, the modelling, design and implementation of a collective effort in a city can be perceived as a complex process. Le Moigne says, “a phenomenon is said to be perceived as being complex when it has the following property: no single finite model, no matter how large, how complicated, how stochastic, etc., it may be built, seems capable of representing exhaustively that phenomenon.” Edgar Morin, in his work on complexity, explains that reducing the complexity of a situation (as we do when applying a Cartesian approach to solve urban challenges) will mutilate its understanding and make it even more complex (so that it will no longer be possible to understand the situation and solve a challenge).

How is the city organized? Experience shows that if the context in which the action takes place is not properly considered during the design process, its implementation will fail (such as satellite cities and many Greenfield cities launched since 2007 in Asia and Middle East). For example, when designing a city platform (like a few cities are currently planning) only the selection of an appropriate methodology adapted to complex system modelling will provide the conceptual tools for modelling in the context of the environment of the city. For cities, the holistic approach needs to be replaced by a systemic approach. Such new approach in the urban environment reveals that the governance of the city of the future needs to change to include co-operation and collaboration between departments and so, the design of a systemic urban management system. Cities need to innovate their governance (the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities recommended in 2007 to develop integrated urban development) or they will stagnate (cities continuing with a silo approach).

What will the city become? Each city needs to do its own analysis and modelling. All the axioms defined along this analysis will constitute the new paradigm of the systemic urban governance of the city. It will show that the current organisation is based on segmented decision centres and a more efficient one should rely on a collaborative and systemic governance to support urban sustainability. Because you cannot manage what you cannot measure, thanks to forthcoming technologies, the management of cities can be improved using ICT solutions and an urban digital transformation strategy.

China wants to finds its typical Chinese city. Each city has its own culture and heritage, and is shaped by international trends and local challenges. When defining its strategy to create future urban value, the city shall consider what it wants to become. Cities are unique and need a unique vision based on national strategies like the 2020 plans in Europe, India and China, or the 2030 plan in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Industry has business objectives and the way the industry models the city will determine its ability to design and develop urban value solutions and products. For example, the ICT industry has its proprietary models of a city (based on set of sets, puzzles of IoT trees and layers like fog, cloud, applications), so the manufacturers have designed different types of city management platform. We understand that if the manufacturers used a holistic approach or a Cartesian approach they have mutilated the representation of the city: like Frankenstein “seeing” the human body as a sum of parts and not as a person with interconnected parts. In “smart” models, the city is represented as a sum of departments and not understood as a whole. The “smart” cities as designed nowadays are like a “Frankenstein city” where networks of networks are forgotten, where happy citizens are replaced by “happy sensors”. The model of the “city of the future” is not yet defined and will not be unique like “one fits all”.

To become sustainable and human centered, the model of our future city should be analyzed from a systemic perspective and not built from as a sum of siloed projects and departments. Just ask yourself in which city you would like to live and why.


In the fictional world of the video game Watch Dogs, you can play a hacktivist who takes over the central operating system of a futuristic, hyper-connected Chicago. With control over the city’s security system, you can spy on residents using surveillance cameras, intercept phone calls, and cripple the city’s critical infrastructure, unleashing a vicious cyberattack that brings the Windy City to its knees.

Watch Dogs is just a game, but it illustrates a possible “what if” scenario that could happen in today’s increasingly smart cities. Advancements in artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices have made it possible for cities to increase efficiencies across multiple services like public safety, transportation, water management and even healthcare.

An estimated 2.3 billion connected things will be used in smart cities this year, according to Gartner, Inc., the technology research and advisory company. That would represent a 42% increase in the number of connected devices since 2016. But the rise of digital connectivity also exposes a host of vulnerabilities cybercriminals are lining up to exploit.

On April 8, hackers set off 156 emergency sirens in Dallas, Texas, disrupting residents and overwhelming 911 operators throughout the day. The number of attacks on critical infrastructure jumped from under 200 in 2012 to almost 300 attacks in 2015. As smart cities move from concept to reality, securing their foundation will become a top priority to ensure the safety of our digitally connected communities.

Simply put, smart cities rely on interconnected devices to streamline and improve city services based on rich, real-time data. These systems combine hardware, software, and geospatial analytics to enhance municipal services and improve an area’s livability. Inexpensive sensors, for example, can reduce the energy wasted in street lights or regulate the flow of water to better preserve resources. Smart cities rely on accurate data in order to properly function. Information that has been tampered with can disrupt operations — and constituents’ lives — for days.

Several cities have adopted smart technologies, applying artificial intelligence to accelerate their transition into the future. In Barcelona, smart water meter technology helped the city save $58 million annually. In South Korea, one city cut building operating costs by 30% after implementing smart sensors to regulate water and electricity usage. With the global IoT footprint expected to surpass 50 billion connected devices by 2020, urban communities will need to strengthen existing cybersecurity protocols and disaster recovery methods to counter hackers searching for opportunities to wreak havoc.

As smart city infrastructure proliferates, the stakes for protecting these digital foundations will only get higher. While investment in smart technology has gone up, many of these innovations are deployed without robust testing and cybersecurity is often neglected.

For example, cities currently using a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, are particularly susceptible to frequent hacks due to poor security protocols. Though SCADA systems control large-scale processes and unify decentralized facilities, they lack cryptographic security and authentication factors. If a hacker targets a city’s SCADA system, they could threaten public health and safety, and shut down multiple city services from a single entry point.

Simple computer bugs can also cause significant glitches in control systems, leading to major technical problems for cities. Once hackers invade smart city control systems, they can send manipulated data to servers to exploit and crash entire data centers. This is how hackers gained access to an Illinois water utility control system in 2011, destroying a water pump that serviced 2,200 customers. Not only do these breaches disrupt daily operations for residents, they can be costly to remedy. A hypothetical hack that triggers a blackout in North America is estimated to leave 93 million people without power and could cost insurers anywhere from $21 billion to $71 billion in damages.

The inevitability of cyberattacks is a lesson the private sector has learned the hard way. As cities adopt smart initiatives, they’d be wise to make data security a priority from the outset. In addition to physically securing facilities controlling power, gas and water, city planners should also implement fail safes and manual overrides in all systems and networks. This includes forcibly shutting down potentially hacked systems until security experts have the opportunity to resolve vulnerability issues. Encrypting sensitive data and deploying network intrusion mechanisms that regularly scan for suspicious activity can also protect against hackers trying to breach control systems remotely.

Smart cities can increase productivity and efficiencies for citizens, but they have a serious problem when security is underestimated. As local governments pursue smart initiatives, realizing the full potential of these digitally connected communities starts with implementing cybersecurity best practices from the ground up.

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