Writing in the Washington Post, Tara Bahrampour reports that in the US, population growth in cities has fallen behind the suburban growth for the first time in six years.

Smart suburbs - the new smart cities?

There are likely to be many social and economic drivers behind this kind of shift, but it serves as a reminder that the concept of “smart cities” needs to work harder to address the wider community.

Today’s nascent smart city solutions (most of which are pilot projects) are restricted to small pockets within the city limits, and often can be found in just one or two streets within the smartest downtown districts.

These downtown streets are vibrant places, with affluent populations swelled by daily visitors and supported by the abundant resources and commercial imperatives of retail and hospitality businesses. These streets provide countless opportunities to monetize data, for example through advertising, and this pays for a lot of new technology pilots.

Take New York’s innovative LinkNYC kiosks for example - $200M buys just 75 kiosks, but the kiosks’ central locations mean that they are forecast to bring in $500M of lifetime advertising revenue. That kind of potential is not available away from city centres, yet it is the wider areas where most people live and where the citizen benefits can be even more important.

To ensure that that smart city projects reach the suburbs and beyond, municipalities and solution providers need to focus on the lifetime costs of the project. Can lower cost sensors and actuators be deployed? Can edge processing reduce data transmission costs? Can existing city assets like streetlight poles be used to host and power sensors? Can LPWA networks be employed to connect sensors at a lower price? Can open data standards reduce data integration costs?

Smart city projects in the suburbs will be about economic innovation that can prove citizen benefits, not the bleeding-edge tech innovation on show in the city centre.