Why Smart City Failed

Smart City Origins: Follow The Money

To understand the congenital flows of “smart city”, we must examine the origins of the concept and the key stakeholders involved.

Examples of centrally coordinated smart city concepts by Cisco and Argo.

City of Neighbors

By default, we are used to top-down planning of urban infrastructure. That’s the legacy of the XXth century, but it wasn’t always this way.

Canaletto, St.Marks square, Venice image source: BBC


Waves of industrialization led to unprecedented population growth and urban land area expansion. This boom caused a shift in urban culture from a city of neighbors to a city of strangers.


The emergence of the Internet, in particular mobile devices, provided infrastructure for the communication vacuum between residents of a metropolitan center. This is exactly what the vision of a “smart city” got wrong. It was never anticipated that the Internet would challenge the default role of local authorities as the intermediary between residents.

  • continuously links the changing location of users (or objects);
  • allows direct communication to anyone (or anything) else in the city from anywhere;

New Power Brokers: Private Platforms

Mobile technology is shifting the distribution of power in modern cities. Who can create the most impact on a city? It used to be the mayor and his or her officers. Today, tech organizations increasingly become new agents of change.

Leap Buses (Left), Uber Pool (Right)

Recycling Data Byproducts

The original vision of the “smart city” required centralized installation of a myriads of sensors, cameras, and transmitters to collect data about a city.

Moscow Mobility analysis based on aggregated cellphone usage data by Habidatum International in partnership with Mathrioshka, MegaFon, Thomson Reuters for MUF


The early “smart city” vision empowered top-down urban governance. The vision was promoted by IT and hardware providers. They could benefit from a centralized infrastructure that would lock cities in their standards for lifetime.



Co-founder Apt Buildings, Inc., previously Airbnb Samara and Asmbld

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Fed Novikov

Fed Novikov

Co-founder Apt Buildings, Inc., previously Airbnb Samara and Asmbld