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Communications of the ACM

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Building a Smart City: Lessons from Barcelona

Building a Smart City, illustration

Credit: Getty Images

Over the past few decades, the challenges faced by local governments, like urban growth and migration, have become increasingly complex and interrelated. In addition to traditional land-use regulation, urban maintenance, production and management of services, governments must meet new demands from different actors regarding water supply, natural-resources sustainability, education, safety, and transportation.2,16 Moreover, cities today compete with one another for companies, tourists, and especially human talent18 while addressing unprecedented socioeconomic crises. Innovation, particularly technological innovation, can help local governments address the challenges of contemporary urban governance, improve the urban environment, increase their competitive edge, and cope with environmental risks. To prevent and manage them, cities must innovate and become smart.

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Although current research regarding cities is rich in references to the smart city, it is also fragmented, as smart city is still a fuzzy term that is not used consistently, even by experts.13 This fragmentation is also reproduced in terms of the strategies that different cities follow to become smarter. There is no single route to being smart, and different cities have adopted different approaches that reflect their own very local circumstances.


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