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Welcome to the December 2017 issue of Voices on Infrastructure, a compilation of perspectives from McKinsey and industry experts on turning the smart city opportunity into reality.

In a world where technology is increasingly ubiquitous, it seems every city is a smart city. The mass deployment of broadband infrastructure, mobile phones, and wireless connectivity is just the beginning. The Internet of Things—a web of connected devices and sensors in the physical world—can interact with analytics systems, using machine learning to turn realms of real-time data into new insights and instant responses.

However, building a smart city means more than hardware deployment. What makes a city truly smart is how it uses all that technology to deliver better outcomes for its citizens. While debates in the past were often focused on the technologies themselves, the discussion must now turn to the needs of residents, the concrete problems to be solved, and how smart cities can be built to address those root problems. The authors in this compilation explore the application of cyber-physical technology around three main themes.

First is bringing intelligence into the citizen’s daily life whether in water conservation and use, transportation, home sharing or security. Cities are increasingly realizing that the benefits of smart cities go far beyond efficiency gains: technology is helping cities become more livable and sustainable. Moscow’s transportation program, for example, aims to save Muscovites a week of commuting time a year through an integrated, technology-enabled initiative to change the average citizen’s mobility experience.

Second, technology is changing how governments think about serving their citizens. Governments are reimagining their systems and processes with an eye toward ensuring not just an improved living experience but also equitable access to infrastructure and programs, becoming more responsive and citizen-centric. From Pune, India, to Toronto, Canada, smart city technology is speeding up the metabolic rate of government.

Third, the landscapes through which we move are transforming under our feet. Initiatives from waterfront revitalization to greenfield city development are creating new venues for the deployment of technologies that can turn deserts into industrial valleys and rust belts into brain belts. Chinese cities are transforming by adopting technologies to green their riverfronts and prepare for a new industrial age, even as they bring back traditional concepts of human-based placemaking.

Implementing digital solutions on a citywide scale requires vision and persistence—which is why this issue of Voices brings together multiple case studies from around the globe. Mayors, experts, technology leaders, and residents themselves all have a role to play. We hope these perspectives help guide decision makers in shaping the smart cities of the future.

Jonathan Woetzel
Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company
Director, McKinsey Global Institute

More Articles


Tony Hansen, Global Infrastructure Initiative


Water scarcity is a problem worldwide—but improved water-supply networks are starting to make a dent in the problem.

Amir Peleg, TaKaDu


To prepare cities for the future, we need to develop and deploy the services that will power them. It will take political courage, foresight, and coordination.

Dan Doctoroff, Sidewalk Labs


In the age of the smart city, leaders must adapt their resilience strategy to match their evolving risk profile—otherwise they risk building a smarter but more fragile city.

Paul Nicholas, Microsoft


Plans are afoot to transform this Shanghai district into a world-class innovation hub. Here’s how leaders hope to overcome challenges in an emerging city and bring their vision to life.

Katrina Lv and Ivan Wang, McKinsey & Company


How home sharing is reshaping cities and travel—and the many opportunities for continued innovation.

Margaret Richardson, Airbnb


Once at the forefront of innovation, construction now lags behind in the adoption of new technologies. But the industry is at a tipping point. We spoke with executives from Atkins, Siemens, and RIB Software at GII 2017 about how they’re embracing the disruptive potential of digitization.


India’s smart-city program offers a road map for cities working to prepare for mass urbanization with limited funds.

Suveer Sinha, McKinsey & Company


The global real estate market is changing. Standardization, prefabrication, and smart technology are gaining traction as rising populations confront the need for affordable housing and livable, sustainable cities. Senior partner Subbu Narayanswamy discussed these evolutions and more at GII 2017 with leaders from Barcelona Housing Systems, Arup, and the Centre for Liveable Cities.


For Latin America’s cities to remain competitive, they must understand their citizens’ experiences and needs—and design policies accordingly.

Andres Cadena and Patricia Ellen, McKinsey & Company

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