The beginning of the year always brings about fresh new goals, opportunities, and a renewed perspective and evaluation of the prior year’s objectives. As technology continues to evolve, so do our expectations of how these changes are going to manifest in the new year. Here at Econsult Solutions and ESI Center for Future Cities, we listed our top trends for 2023 and our predictions on how technology-driven solutions will make an impact in the coming year.
Citizen-centric tech will be a key priority
As technology becomes further interwoven into the fabric of our cities, we expect to see continued emphasis on technology that keeps the citizens’ needs as a priority. With different city services becoming more digitized, data is being used to provide solutions to urban infrastructure challenges. Citizens will push for more equitable solutions that can help solve issues like gun violence, income inequality, and housing affordability, with a focus on protecting vulnerable populations, low-income families, senior citizens, and the disabled. City leaders and stakeholders will have to address these social issues, and technology will either be a great tool or a potential encumberment.
EV charging infrastructure will continue its upward momentum
We have written extensively about electric vehicles (EVs) over the course of 2022, and do not expect the momentum of EVs and their deployment to slow down. As the markets begin to open to a broader consumer base, smaller and medium-sized cities will need to leverage federal dollars and strategize both efficient and equitable infrastructure deployment plans. As EV infrastructure continues its rollout, we predict the focus will turn to fleet electrification for school buses, city buses, and other public transit systems.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will leverage open data in a big way
Artificial intelligence (AI) has made waves in the city service environment by leveraging data to increase services in waste management, pavement maintenance, security, and transit. We expect this trend to continue, but also expand into other industries like construction and healthcare. As AI technology continues to advance, equity and privacy concerns will rise as technology is piloted to the public. AI technology like gunshot detection will gain widespread adoption, but cities will need to employ an equity lens to keep their citizens safe.
Infrastructure Bill & Inflation Reduction Act will start to take shape on the state and local level
In 2023, we of course expect see the rollout and impact of the recent landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill. As funds are distributed to cities and towns across the country, government officials will have to make strategic decisions about how money will be allocated and which projects to prioritize. There will be an emphasis on building the nation’s EV charging infrastructure, especially along regional corridors. States will have to juggle traditional investments in road networks and highways with more innovative updates, like autonomous vehicles that will propel cities into the next generation of advanced infrastructure. There will be an increased need for infrastructure that is both sustainable and climate resilient, with special attention to the nation’s power grids, and water and sewage systems.
Concurrently, the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) extends tax credits for both new and used vehicles an additional 10 years, which addresses some of the accessibility concerns of low and middle income consumers. The new act also reinstated the EV charging and equipment tax credit that expired in 2021.
WFH is here to stay, and downtown development must reinvent itself
It is no secret that the pandemic disrupted industries and business sectors worldwide, but one change that we are still seeing the effects of, is the impact of company work-from-home (WFH) policies. WFH has disrupted city centers globally, as more and more workers opt to do business from the comfort of their own homes. Fewer workers in buildings mean fewer users of public transit and services, which ultimately less generated revenue for the city. In 2023, we predict observing more innovative ways to reuse, readapt, and revitalize downtown corridors. We think there will be a rise in adaptive re-use for more affordable housing units, and innovation spaces that merge live, work, and play.
New York City, with the assistance of ESI, convened a task force on the future of office space. That report provided recommendations and strategies for converting office space to residential uses. This recognizes the continued attraction of cities for residents, but also the shift of office work from office buildings to residential offices.
Nightlife is rebounding, and cities can benefit
While downtown centers reinvent themselves during 9-5, there has been and always will be an opportunity for nighttime activity that could be leveraged for increasing daytime economic activity. A report done by ESI studied the impact of nightlife in New York on businesses, retail, restaurants, and transportation. Translating the economic impact of nightlife in cities like New York to struggling daytime downtown districts like those in San Francisco can be a powerful tool in the age of work from home.
Stronger commitments to green infrastructure will need stronger funding
Meeting net zero and decarbonization goals will take the collaborative efforts of cities, tech companies, and investors alike to ensure they are delivered. COVID-19 shed light on just how imperative investments in blue and green infrastructure is, with large attention paid to the value and need for more green open space. Park and green corridors will be what makes cities more resilient for the future, and a recent report conducted by ESI found that financed green infrastructure has economic, environmental, and social benefits for residents, as well as the city at large. The report also included recommendations for small and medium sized cities on how to finance green infrastructure projects of their own.
Greening efforts will be especially important going forward, as extreme temperatures continue to have devastating impacts in urban regions in particular. ESI’s article from this past summer took a deep dive into the phenomena of urban heat islands and their disparaging impacts on the elderly, low income folks, and black and brown residents. We are expecting to see an increase in specialized task forces and roles in government like heat chief positions, which will be tasked with evaluating, assessing, and tackling excessive heat in their cites.
Innovative public transportation policy and programming will have great impacts
With the new funding from the infrastructure bill being distributed, state and city governments will build momentum on large infrastructure projects, with public transit requiring a large portion of budgets. We expect to see more government, private sector, and university collaborations for broader and innovation-based programming. These partnerships will be crucial when developing strategic plans to increase ridership in metropolitan cities hit hard during the pandemic. One entity tackling this is Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) through its Key Advantage Pass program, which allows organizations to purchase passes for all their eligible members at a special discounted price of an all -access pass, lower commuting cost for employees.
The digital divide will narrow, but digital privacy risks will widen
The digital divide has been steadily closing and with heightened ferocity since the pandemic exposed lack of broadband in rural and some disconnected urban areas. While those efforts have been successful, the new year will bring more attention regarding digital privacy and cybersecurity as more and more citizens engage with city digital infrastructure and services. In 2023, cities will need to ramp up data privacy protections to ensure its citizens’ privacy and data are not breached by bad actors.
That’s what we think, What predictions do you have for cities in 2023?
Kendra Hills, Intern | Hills@econsultsolutions.com
Kendra Hills is an intern at Econsult Solutions supporting ESI’s Center for the Future of Cities. She is currently a Master’s student at the University of Pennsylvania, studying city & regional planning with a concentration in smart cities.
Steve Wray, Senior Vice President & Principal | Wray@econsultsolutions.com
Steve Wray is a senior vice president and principal at Econsult Solutions and Lead Principal of ESI Center for the Future of Cities. He leads the work of the firm’s principals and senior staff in developing new partnerships, expanding and building on existing practice areas, and integrating the firm’s strengths in economic analysis and thought leadership.