Are cities ready for 2023 and beyond?

Still reeling from the pandemic, and now facing economic, social, environmental, and digital disruptions, cities must quickly come to grips with the rising expectations of citizens. In a post-pandemic world, it is no longer enough to be a smart city. Cities also need to be also sustainable, inclusive, resilient, and economically robust. In addition, they need to be fit for future purpose, due to the permanent shifts in how citizens with live, work, travel, shop, and learn in cities. Cities have already made progress, but much more preparation needs to happen in 2023.  

To understand how cities are preparing to become “future-ready,” we recently conducted a comprehensive benchmarking survey of city officials from 200 pre-screened cities in 67 countries. The benchmarked cities are home to over 385.4 million residents, representing 4.8% of the world population. As part of our research, we developed a rigorous research methodology to identify today’s most future-ready cities and what sets them apart from others.​ 

What our future-readiness model reveals 

To create our future-readiness model, we drew on survey data showing progress that cities have made in 12 key areas of future readiness, including accelerating digital transformation, building resilience, using data for decision-making, adapting to citizen expectations, driving trust, empowering communities, building global economic links, ensuring citizen safety and health, attracting talent, developing an ecosystem of partners, finding resource efficiencies, and fostering inclusiveness. We also included data on progress made across seven urban domains: digital infrastructure, energy and utilities, mobility, living and health, environment, public safety, and the economy. To ensure the rigor of the model, our economists factored in objective third-party performance data on pollution, climate, traffic, health, safety, quality of life, cost of living, property price-to-income ratio, and purchasing power.  

According to our analysis, the top 20 future-ready cities are:  

  1. Tokyo, Japan 
  1. Hangzhou, China 
  1. Helsinki, Finland 
  1. Tallinn, Estonia 
  1. Taipei, Taiwan 
  1. Durham, UK 
  1. Aberdeen, UK 
  1. Sapporo, Japan 
  1. Boulder, USA 
  1. Madrid, Spain 
  1. Amsterdam, Netherlands 
  1. Christchurch, New Zealand 
  1. Riga, Latvia 
  1. Brisbane, Australia 
  1. Glasgow, UK 
  1. Salt Lake City, USA 
  1. Tbilisi, Georgia 
  1. Oklahoma City, USA 
  1. Palma de Mallorca, Spain 
  1. Perth, Australia

What is most noticeable about this list is its diversity. While some cities have very large populations, such as Hangzhou with 21 million people, others, like Boulder have just over 100,000 people. Some cities like Tokyo, Helsinki, Durham, and Amsterdam are based in developed markets, while others like Hangzhou, Tallin, and Riga, come from emerging markets. The cities are also spread across different parts of America, Europe, and Asia. 

Curiously, our future-ready rankings include cities not often found on smart city lists. While some cities are usual suspects, such as Tokyo, Helsinki, and Amsterdam, many others are typically overlooked by smart city rankings such as Bolder, Hangzhou, Riga, and Tbilisi. While digital transformation is vital for becoming future-ready, technology alone is not enough, and if applied incorrectly, can even undermine efforts around sustainability and inclusiveness. 

High-ranking cities like Tokyo, Hangzhou, and Helsinki have made good or very good progress against 12 areas of future-ready and ranked high on the performance metrics.  For example, Helsinki has a high quality of living index ranking (185.31), safety (74.04), and traffic commute (29.45) and a low pollution index score (13.95) and property price to income ratio (12.24). 

Some cities like Boulder, Colorado do not get the attention of most smart rankings because of its smaller size. However, Boulder is consistently listed as one of the best places to live and retire due to its great schools, low crime, thriving economy, and great environmental quality. Boulder has made good or very good progress on most areas of future-readiness and believes it is well prepared for future challenges. 

On the other hand, acknowledged smart cities like San Francisco fell lower on our future readiness scores, because of its poorer performance in areas such as crime, healthcare, and traffic congestion. Renown smart cities, such as New York City, Copenhagen, London, Paris, do not appear on our list because they did not participate in our study.   

What we learned  

Future-ready cities do five things better than other cities in our research:  

  1. Extract more value from data.   They are more likely to take an open data approach and see data-driven tools like digital twins as important for achieving their plans.  
  1. Invest more in technology.  They spend more than twice as much per capita and have more effective procurement processes and policies for adopting new technologies. 
  1. Nurture citizen engagement. They develop new roles such as Chief Citizen Officer and are much better than most cities in adapting to citizen expectations.  
  1. Build ecosystems of collaboration. They partner more with financial institutions, corporations, non-profits and advocacy groups, technology firms, and startups. 
  1. Excel at cybersecurity.  They are more likely to take steps to enhance data privacy and security, spend more on cybersecurity, and are far better prepared for cyberattacks.  

A final thought for 2023 

As cities reel in the New Year and prepare for new challenges in 2023, they should keep an eye on what they need to do now to ensure their place in fast-transforming world.