Smart cities can be greenfield, brownfield or somewhere in between. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is creating a vision of a smart megacity rising up from the desert.

It will be unlike anything ever before realized — a business and industrial hub powered by 100 percent renewable power with artificial intelligence devices running most infrastructure and more robots than humans. It will also cost nearly a trillion dollars and, according to the prince, help Saudi Arabia diversify away from its petroleum-based economy.

The prince’s vision, as detailed in this recent article in this Australian news websitecalls for a whole new way of planning and building a city.

But does a smart city need to be greenfield (or desert-field in this case) and cost hundreds of billions of dollars?

Of course not.  Smart cities can be built one innovation neighborhood at a time. More often, they will be developed on top of existing mature infrastructure. The case for utilizing existing development is strong.

It’s not just the crown prince who has caught the vision of what smart cities can be. Visionaries, planners and people from all walks of life are beginning to understand their potential.

I believe it is clear that smart cities must be built around three key components: net zero energy, high-efficiency broadband and master-planned transportation. I also strongly believe that utilities have an unprecedented opportunity to play a leading role in bringing smart communities to life. Energy will be key to living more intelligently tomorrow; no one knows the way forward better than an industry that has transformed civilization for the past 100 years.


Smart cities are defined in various ways around the globe, but the common thread among all definitions is the end goal of creating a better place in the world.

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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.