Perspectives from U.S. & China: Smart City Innovation & Technology

We asked our experts at ESI and our think tank partners at ANBOUND, located in Beijing, China, to give their thoughts on the future of technology from both a US and Chinese perspective. Our experts focused on four major topics: smart cities, jobs of the future, autonomous vehicles, and tourism related apps. Look out for a blog post each Friday for the next month related to these topics to get key insights from both a U.S. and Chinese viewpoint. We have a lot to learn from our Chinese partners, who share our interests and come at those interests from a different economic and political context. We hope you enjoy learning with us! 

This week, ANBOUND staff including Chen Gong, Founder & Chief Researcher, and ESI staff including Steve Wray, Vice President & Director, and Sidney Wong, Senior Advisor, give us their thoughts on smart city innovation and technology.

Which “smart city” innovations are the most important ones to improve a jurisdiction’s economic competitiveness?

ANBOUND: “Smart city” is a broad concept that depicts how cities are being transformed by technology and mangaged differently in  multiple areas including energy, healthcare, and the Internet of Things. Impacts will be felt in the following areas:

  • Regional economy: The development of the IoT can significantly strengthen a region’s economic competitiveness.
  • Serving underpriviledged groups: With telemedicine, doctors and nurses can serve people with limited mobility. Remote education, serving children in remote areas, connects them with outside education resources that help improve their coursework performance.
  • Maintaining social equity and equality: Smart city infrastructure broadens the access of public service to more people. At the same time, the promotion and improvement of smart city construction improve data availability and open government by ensuring fair access of data to the public.


What will cities need to do to take advantage of smart city technology?

Steve WrayESI- Steve Wray: Hyperconnected cities of the future will require core infrastructure of wired and wireless internet connections to power the integrated apps, tools and sensors that will allow cities to learn and evolve through technology. The coming 5G revolution will open new opportunities for investment in cities, but only those cities that are able to make the transition to this new standard will reap the benefits of new products and innovations.

At the same time, cities also need to make sure they are keeping up with the latest advances in cybersecurity. All it might take is one major cyberattack to cripple a city, and make citizens less trusting and more fearful of technology, rather than embracing the efficiencies and advances that can help cities move forward. Like corporations, cities must be vigilant and looking to the future to protect the new systems and tools that will be powering their cities.

Finally, cities must not just embrace technology for efficiency, but as a tool for making the lives of their citizens richer and more prosperous. This will require advanced civic engagement and communications, to help fully explain how citizens can interact with these new technologies, but also how they can benefit from these advances.

What are the benefits of smart cities?

ANBOUND: The main benefit of smart cities is the sharing and widespread use of big data. Smart cities provide a large amount of low-cost, comprehensive and dynamic basic data information. Through comprehensive data analysis, the government can respond more accurately to future trends and design policies in line with the needs of cities, so as to make governance more effective and efficient. Moreover, enterprises can better improve their businesses, attract new business opportunities, and guide the rise of new industries and the new economy.

What can we learn from smart city technology applications?

ESI- Sidney Wong: The first useful application I saw used was in terms of transportation, ticketing, route planning, and navigation systems that save enormous time and energy in personal mobility. This minimizes trip distance and time, making life easier. What is interesting to think about is can we apply a similar brokerage system application to human resources, job searches and recruitment, as well as training?

For equity, on one hand, technology often provides a leveling plane; but on the other hand, it can also deepen the digital divide. True, very poor people used technology; the most notable example is the use of mobile phones. Some examples include how the Bangladesh Grameen Bank has empowered women entrepreneurs; vendors using QR codes in remote hillsides in China; and universal access to entertainment by mobile device. But all of these are going to require dealing with personal privacy issues to allow for trust of the system.

What are the key issues on smart city development?

ANBOUND- Chen Gong: The construction of smart cities is not a large-scale experimentation of new technology applications, rather it should be an improvement that focuses on improving the urban systems and the livability of people. Because of this, there are two core elements that should be well-understood: the systematism  and people’s preference.

The development of smart cities should focus on its systematism and spontaneous adapation of technology, not just the high-tech transformation. In many parts of China, the smart city concept is perceived as a promiton of technological hardware and large-scale infrastructure. These projects offer the potential for smaller smart projects to emerge. However, this approach does not present the completeness of a smart city because it does not put enough emphasis on network-connected, peer-to-peer planning of every corner of the street.

Second, “people” is the most important element in the development of smart cities. If the people’s demands are ignored, the construction of smart cities will merely become an “imposing” technological application process. Therefore, only by building an urban living environment based on people’s needs can a convenient, comfortable and truly meaningful smart city be created. This people-oriented development  should not be deviated.


ANBOUND is a multinational independent think tank that focuses on information research and analysis in the areas of public policy, finance, and risk. ANBOUND has provided strategic assessment, policy analysis, economic analysis, and other research and information services to governments, top 500 companies, and financial institutions in Mainland China. To learn more about ESI & ANBOUND’s collective capabilities please click here.


Founder of Anbound Think Tank in 1993, Chen Gong is now ANBOUND Chief Researcher. Chen Gong is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chen Gong’s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.


Sidney Wong, Ph.D. is a Senior Advisor with Econsult Solutions, Inc., a fiscal impact expert and the project lead of Community Data Analytics. He previously worked as a senior consultant with the World Bank in evaluating the quality of Project Appraisal Documents in the South Asia Region.

Steve WraySteve Wray is a vice president and director at Econsult Solutions. Mr. Wray leads projects focused on regional economic competitiveness and civic strategy and policy. He brings to ESI’s clients extensive experience connecting the public, private and non-profit sectors with analysis and strategy development of economic growth, talent development, infrastructure and governance issues.

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