City Brands In Age Of Smart Cities

By Jonathan Cummings

It’s well documented that we’re seeing the highest levels of mass urbanization in history, with the United Nations predicting that 86% of the developed world and around 64% of the developing world will live in urban areas by 2050.

While we’re seeing the development of megacities that are home to more than 10 million people, smart city initiatives could become a major opportunity for smaller cities to raise their profile and status – to develop their brand to new levels.

There are many measures of the strength of a city brand. The Globalization and World Cities Network has long ranked London and New York in a league of their own as the only two Alpha++ cities, with the likes of Hong Kong, LA, Singapore, Paris and Tokyo coming in the next tier.

That ranking is based predominantly on financial strength, but also incorporates other factors and I think it’s fair to say that they are the two most complete cities in the world, if not even close to being the largest by population.

Melbourne, Stockholm, Vancouver and others consistently sit at, or near the top of rankings that look at the most liveable cities. We’ve seen the likes of Shanghai, Dubai and Shenzhen developing infrastructure at a pace and scale that the world has never seen before.

Other somewhat smaller cities including Barcelona, Dublin and Columbus have endeavored to position themselves as smart city pioneers – a position that arguably can only be temporary, like any pioneers, until others catch up and even move beyond.

But will they be trend-setters in positioning smaller cities and towns as smart alternatives to the traditional and new megacities? Can smart city philosophy change the way we view a city and ultimately where we want to live and work?

Most of us now live in a connected world. For relatively low cost, we can connect by video or voice to anywhere in the world with decent quality. We can shop for pretty much anything from wherever we are and expect rapid delivery to our door. A combination of ever-increasing (and lower-cost) flight options, high-speed rail and, looking into the future, hyperloop-type transport options make traveling for business or leisure simple, fast and cost-effective.

Therefore the traditional ‘connectivity’ benefits of the megacities are starting to lose ground – especially while (at present at least) pollution and traffic problems are getting worse, rather than better.

We have an increasing focus on health and wellbeing, making livability a bigger consideration. For leisure, the exponential growth in the cruise market in Asia is bringing more people to coastal cities – reinvigorating once-thriving ports that had lost ground in recent decades.

Added together, the way that we look at a city brand in terms of where we’d like to live and work is changing – creating huge opportunities for smaller cities to provide a smart alternative. They’re putting pressure on mega-cities to combat their challenges of congestion, pollution and safety.   

All cities around the world should be considering their brand more than they have ever done before, and they should be embracing entrepreneurs both locally and from further afield– giving them a canvas to create the perfect city of the future.

About The Author
FITCH Chairman HK and Group Business Director Jonathan Cummings is a leading authority in the Future of Retail conversation in Asia Pacific. Based in Hong Kong for the last 10 years, Jonathan leads regional business for FITCH and has been defining, launching and growing brands throughout Greater China since 2007. He has worked closely with government bodies such as InvestHK and Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI), representing Hong Kong’s creative industry locally and internationally. In 2009, Jonathan established retail consultancy StartJG in Hong Kong, which was incorporated into FITCH in 2016. Widely acknowledged as a leading brand consultancy within the Asia-Pacific region, Jonathan and his handpicked team of 45 won Brand Consultancy of the Year awards in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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