Smarter Cities… and Wiser Ones?

IEEE members must be part of the team

6 June 2014



Photo: Ron Newkirk

We are already seeing remarkable work in the creation of smart cities, as the The Institute's June issue attests. Likewise, IEEE’s newly inaugurated Smart Cities technical community is already seeing robust growth, attracting technologists from a diverse array of pursuits.

That diversity is going to be critical to the successful development of smart cities. Today’s global cities are multilayered, complex, and delicately balanced. Their lifeblood is interdependent systems within systems; the proper functioning of those structures determines their citizens’ quality of life.

Right now, in Barcelona, Guadalajara, London, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, and elsewhere, members of IEEE are actively engaged in making established cities smarter. And in Masdar City, United Arab Emirates, and Songdo, South Korea, members of our IEEE community are working to create smart cities as well. But just as no two cities are alike, neither are any two smart cities. Each one faces unique challenges and objectives.

In Masdar and Songdo we are already seeing innovative approaches to the age-old problems of transportation, energy generation, waste removal, building construction, and the interfaces between people and technology.

In places like Guadalajara’s Ciudad Creativa Digital, IEEE members are leading efforts to make technology an immersive and pervasive part of the urban landscape. They are fostering collaboration between the public and private sectors on scales unheard of a few decades ago. Efforts such as those in Guadalajara are becoming the norm of urban planning, rather than the anomaly. In fact, collaboration with local and global organizations in different aspects (technical and geopolitical) will be a hallmark of IEEE’s smart-cities activities.

My own home city of Rio de Janeiro worked with a leading IT solutions provider to build a cutting-edge “control room” that monitors the city’s infrastructure, with inputs received from across the breadth of Rio’s extensive urban web of interrelated systems. Traffic, air quality, and water and sewage flow are but a few of the many elements of daily life constantly monitored by this state-of-the-art system.

Such efforts—be they in Guadalajara, Masdar, Rio de Janeiro, or Songdo—are making the cities smarter. But are they making them wiser?


For smart cities to become wise, more than just technology is needed. Steve Jobs, in a 1994 interview in Rolling Stone magazine, perhaps said it best: “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”

It is critical to keep that in mind in any discussion of smart cities. Technology is the tool that governments and societies will employ to transform and improve economies, energy generation and distribution, governance, the environment, and, above all else, our daily lives. But technology is just that: a tool. How the tool is wielded will be paramount in achieving success.

Today, the pace of progress is measured by the month and year, rather than the year and decade. In the future, it may be measured by the day and month. That is where wisdom must come into play.

As we create smart cities, or develop our established urban centers into smart cities, our vision as technologists must focus on them as evolving, organic constructs. Thus, our investment in tomorrow’s smart cities must be sustained over an extraordinarily long time. The work IEEE technologists do today to build these smarter cities must prove sustainable for many more years of evolution, growth, and development. We are not only building a smart city for today, we are also initiating a path for generations to come. Therefore, we must also educate the next generations to become builders of smarter cities.

I believe our global IEEE community is more than up to that task. As the 20th century began, members of our predecessor societies, AIEE and IRE, were changing the way the world lived, worked, and communicated. And now, in the opening decades of the 21st century, we find IEEE members doing the same.

Involve yourself in IEEE’s smart-cities efforts. Take part in our technical communities and share your expertise. Smart cities will be only as intelligent as the thinking and vision that goes into creating them. Ours is a wise community; let us use that wisdom in the service of our global future.

Please share your views on smart cities with me at or visit the IEEE Smart Cities Web portal to contribute to IEEE’s ongoing efforts.

RdMt_signature2014 J. Roberto Boisson de Marca
IEEE President and CEO
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