Reimagining Cities from Sewer to Skyscraper, and the Public-Private Investments Needed to Get There

What does it mean to be a “smart city”? It requires more than simply offering public WiFi or the latest digital cellular networks. It relies on technology to integrate a city’s infrastructure at every level. And, until recently, the word “infrastructure” meant physical assets like roads, streetlights, and sewers, but  smart  infrastructure expands that to include often-invisible data networks which connect, enhance, and control these physical fixtures – becoming the backbone for any truly smart city.

Ambitions for this modern connected infrastructure look to affect everything from energy to housing to transportation to education to health care. Ultimately, the goal is for all of these areas to be interconnected and ladder up to a centralized “brain” that helps them work together. Not an easy transition for most cities – getting there requires a new level of partnership and contribution by governments, companies and investors alike. Often, the private sector leads the way, with expertise or access to new technologies that governments tap into for a range of solutions. Initiatives in three cities—London, Singapore, and Dallas—illustrate some of the different approaches these partnerships are taking.


Lighting is a defining characteristic of any cityscape – but it’s so much more than that. Cities bustle with activity day and night, making ubiquitous lighting a necessity. All this illumination requires energy and manpower, and technology can help make it more efficient. That’s why London tapped Philips Lighting’s CityTouch system to power, connect, and automate 42,000 lights throughout the city. Philips estimates that energy consumption is reduced by more than 70%1 while lowering CO2 emissions. Additionally, when a light bulb goes out, CityTouch sends a notification so that a crew can be dispatched for a repair right away. Not only does this make upkeep more efficient, but potentially enhances security by keeping dark corners and roads to a minimum.

Another area of focus is public transportation. Beginning in the 1990s, London installed sensors in traffic lights that recognize oncoming buses and give them priority to pass through. These Selective Vehicle Detection (SVD) sensors have reduced travel times, increased bus ridership by 38% 2, and paid for themselves with operational savings. More recently, Transport for London partnered with the private consulting firm Transport Research Laboratory to develop driverless shuttles that are safer and more efficient than their non-autonomous counterparts. In addition, the partnership is developing technologies to make the system safer—with its trial run of curbside audio and light signals to alert pedestrians of an approaching bus.

The city has also gotten smart about its handling of another common challenge: lack of parking. Up to a third of traffic in downtown areas is made up of drivers looking for spots3 – contributing to congestion, frustration, and a steady unnecessary stream of CO2. By partnering with FM Conway Ltd and parking technology specialist Smart Parking Limited, the busy Westminster area of London has used Infrared SmartEye sensors in more than 3,000 parking spaces to determine availability. This data is then transmitted to the ParkRight mobile app, which maps real-time open spaces for drivers.

Historically London has been at the forefront of leveraging innovation to solve city challenges, but they reinforced their approach in 2013 by creating the Smart London Board. The board has included experts from companies like Siemens, Intel, Huawei, McKinsey, and IBM and its main focus is helping London’s leadership find technology-based solutions to major urban dilemmas.


Smart cities are data-heavy endeavors. When data is offered as a public utility, it presents a powerful new tool for entrepreneurs and startups to harness into opportunity. On this front, Singapore’s government has jumped in headfirst with one of the world’s largest smart city rollouts, Smart Nation. The program was launched in 2014 with the goal of leveraging technology, networks and big data to open the doors to economic opportunity, build stronger communities and an overall better quality of life. It’s a roughly $2 billion public investment aimed at creating opportunities for private infrastructure initiatives.

The program requires a massive amount of data aggregation and transfer, which is processed by public and private network controllers. This multi-faceted network will be used by both government agencies and businesses to offer services, such as predictive healthcare services, simplified cashless transactions, and real-time autonomous mobility services to Singapore’s highly connected population.

In addition, the city’s Beeline SG system leveraged these network-based technologies to deliver a connected mobility platform which went live in August 2015. The cloud-based system allows riders to book seats on available buses ahead of time via an app, guaranteeing a seat on the bus. Travelers can also suggest new routes and, based on demand, routes are added and changed. This is partially attainable because the Beeline platform is an open sourcing model– it allows for private transport companies to supplement the public services in order to keep up with commuter demand. Currently there are seven private bus operators on Beeline and 34 routes, with plans to add more4.


Dallas is an active city – it houses 20 Fortune 500 company headquarters5 and has the 7th largest concentration of technology jobs in the U.S6. In 2015, the Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA) was founded as a public-private coalition that includes local government, corporations, civic organizations, NGOs, and academia joining forces to transform Dallas into “a forward-thinking, innovative smart global city.”7   DIA is a non-profit entity, with a strategy of a testing out key ideas and initiatives in pilots instead of pushing things out quickly to the whole city.

Phase One of DIA’s initiative includes the creation of a connected “living lab” inside the city’s West End neighborhood, the fasting growing residential area in Dallas County. The lab is powered by AT&T and supported by partners including Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas Regional Chamber, Cisco, IBM, and Philips. An early initiative includes the installation of Smart LED light bulbs from GE and Philips managed by “intelligent nodes,” which enable intelligent lighting management. These connected light bulbs could eventually be used to capture real-time data such as air quality, traffic congestion, crowd gatherings, and other events.

Other initiatives being rolled out by the lab include a smart parking system, advanced water metering that wirelessly monitors and optimizes usage, and a smart irrigation system to service a downtown park. All the collected data will be funneled through an open source platform that can be tapped by citizens, entrepreneurs, and other organizations to create their own applications.

And a major added benefit of the living lab is that it allows Dallas to test smart city ideas with no cost to taxpayers. The solutions being tested in the West End are almost entirely funded by in-kind donations from partners of the alliance.


The dense and dynamic cities of the future will face unprecedented challenges.  They will be tasked to efficiently and sustainably deliver transportation, security, and opportunity to millions of residents. But these challenges bring with them unprecedented opportunities. Opportunities for governments, companies, investors and citizens to work together – bringing the best thinking to the forefront. From those ideas will come enhanced quality of life, more efficient governance, strong long-term investments, economic growth, and, of course, truly Smart Cities.


  1. Philips, Lighting the Future (2014)
  2. Transport for London, Bus priority at traffic signals keeps London’s buses moving (2006)
  3. Shoup, Cruising for Parking, 2015
  4. Government Technology Agency of Singapore, 2017
  5. Dallas Regional Chamber, Dallas Economic Development Guide
  6. Dallas Regional Chamber, Dallas Economic Development Guide
  7. Dallas Innovation Alliance, 2017