Cities are growing at an intense rate, with more than half the world’s residents calling cities and towns home. By 2050, according to the United Nations, urban populations will rise by more than 3 billion people, changing the landscape of our planet and further reinforcing cities as the hubs for innovation and technology.

Smart cities stand out as a way to make cities more livable and functional, but the move to develop the city of the future hasn’t gained the traction it needs to sweep the globe. Many barriers exist. For a city to undertake a project of such broad scope is a complicated endeavor. Additionally, stakeholders, government entities and other key players all have their own vision for what a smart city looks like, making it difficult to get everyone on the same page.

Despite the issues inherent in master planning to tackle smart community initiatives, sometimes the main obstacle is knowing where to start and applying strategic thinking to build a cohesive, long-term plan. By using the information and steps laid out here, putting together a plan to begin the implementation of smart city technologies may be easier than you thought.

Managing Priorities

Like reaching any goal, breaking down the approach for developing a smart city into smaller portions makes the process simpler; it also builds a stepladder to reaching a fully developed smart community. Innovation neighborhoods are the rungs in that stepladder.

Innovation neighborhoods are smart cities on a more attainable scale. The scope is smaller, but the benefits are still apparent. Residents get the services they need at agreeable prices and enjoy new conveniences and technologies. Sustainability becomes a higher priority and the city becomes more attractive to outside investors in an increasingly competitive market.

More than anything, as each piece is added to neighborhoods throughout a city, the combined whole begins to form the overall structure, building off each piece and bring the city closer to its goal.

Gathering the Building Blocks (The 6 Steps)

So, how do you make actionable steps to tackle those issues? It can be difficult for civic leaders to know where to begin, but considering these six steps will garner the development of a concrete, actionable city master planning initiative.

  1. Engage in a comprehensive community involvement program.
  2. Produce a request for information (RFI) to gauge vendor interest and ideas.
  3. Develop a live-work-play master plan based on community input and RFI results.
  4. Issue a request for proposal (RFP) to pre-qualified product and service vendors for participation in the buildout.
  5. Build out the innovation neighborhood, the first scalable building block of a smart city.
  6. Test, innovate and incorporate the lessons learned into the next innovation neighborhood.

As the world continues to grow and expand, so too will the need for smart cities. The concept is complex, and the technology they use is advanced. But with a little work, the development of a plan to take on the major infrastructure upgrades that these future cities require can be made simpler and more attainable than first imagined.


Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast: As the world becomes more urban, scale complicates sustainable technology integration. Innovation neighborhoods are laboratories for testing concepts and acceptance.

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As a vice president for Burns & McDonnell, Mike’s top priority is helping electric and gas transmission and distribution clients take on complex projects. His team provides strong, smart and sustainable solutions in areas including critical infrastructure, the smart grid, smart cities and emerging technologies.