New Research Finds Escalating Urban Challenges and the Need for Cities to Become Future-Ready

Global study of 200 cities and 2,000 citizens shows how urban leaders are adjusting their priorities and adapting to changing citizen expectations.

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#buildingafuturereadycity–Social, economic, and environmental disruptions, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, are radically altering the expectations and behaviors of citizens, requiring urban leaders around the world to develop action plans to become future-ready.

ThoughtLab, a leading global research firm, and Hatch, a global engineering, project management, and professional services firm, have joined forces with a broad coalition of business, government, and academic experts to provide city leaders with a blueprint for future success. Titled Building a Future-Ready City, the newly released study findings show what it means to be future-ready, and what cities need to do to get there. The study was sponsored by Axis Communications, Cognizant, Dassault Systèmes, Dell, Deloitte, GM, Intel, JLL Technologies, Kearney, NTT, and Visa.

To analyze how cities are future-proofing their urban environments, ThoughtLab, together with Hatch Urban Solutions, conducted a worldwide benchmarking study of 200 cities—representing 5% of the world population. ThoughtLab and Hatch also surveyed 2,000 citizens in 20 worldwide cities to assess the alignment between city strategies and citizen expectations. To gain qualitative insights, ThoughtLab interviewed city leaders about their plans and held meetings with a global cadre of urban experts.

“Cities are facing greater upheaval today than at any time since we began conducting urban research. Our goal is to provide cities with an evidence-based roadmap to address rapidly changing citizen expectations and behaviors, along with in-depth benchmarking analysis to enable them to measure where they are in future-readiness against others,” said Lou Celi, the CEO of ThoughtLab and the director of the research program.

What a future-ready city looks like

The most successful metro areas, according to the study, will be those that have clear long-term visions and plans for transforming themselves into future-ready cities with the ability to meet dramatic shifts in citizen behaviors and urban solutions.

To assess the future-readiness of cities, the study investigated each city’s progress across digital infrastructure, transportation, living and health, and other critical urban domains, as well as the level of transformation each city believed it required to meet future urban demands. In addition to self-reported data from cities, ThoughtLab and Hatch economists included data from trusted secondary sources to develop a pioneering future-ready index.

The study examined many pivotal areas of future-readiness. The top areas where future-ready cities reporting having made the most progress include (1) driving digital transformation (77% of future-ready cities); (2) building resilience and agility (75%); (3) using technology and data to improve decision-making (75%); (4) adapting to citizen needs around health and safety (73%); (5) building trust and transparency (73%); (6) empowering communities and citizens (70%); and (7) building global economic, political and trade connections (68%).

Of the 200 cities participating in the study, ThoughtLab categorized 44 cities as future-ready; 88 as progressing toward future-readiness; and 68 in an earlier stage of development. The 10 most future-ready cities ranked in order are Tokyo, Hangzhou, Helsinki, Tallin, Taipei, Durham, Aberdeen, Sapporo, Boulder, and Madrid.

The five most future-ready cities ranked in order by region are:

  • North America: Boulder, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Santa Clara, and Berkeley
  • Latin America: Belo Horizonte, Merida, Aracaju, Pachuca, and Bucaramanga
  • Europe: Helsinki, Tallin, Durham, Aberdeen, and Madrid
  • Middle East & Africa: Dubai, Tel Aviv, Kigali, Manama, and Dammam
  • Asia Pacific: Tokyo, Hangzhou, Taipei, Sapporo, and Christchurch

The research shows general alignment between city leaders and citizens, but also some major gaps in views. Both groups see climate change as the greatest challenge facing cities and agree on the need for major urban transformation. They concur that affordable housing, homelessness, and public health should be high on urban agendas. But citizens see inadequate infrastructure, income inequality, and, particularly, low trust in government as bigger problems than cities do. And while 78% of cities believe they are well prepared to overcome these challenges in the future, only 39% of citizens agree with that belief.

How cities will seize their futures

The study identified the main mechanisms that cities are using to implement their future-ready city strategies and achieve better results:

  • Collaboration and partnerships, especially with financial institutions, universities, businesses, startups, and technology companies, as well as with other cities and city networks.
  • Emerging technologies, particularly automation, AI, electric vehicles, Internet of Things, data analytics, mobile, and cloud. And Fifty-four percent of all cities surveyed and 66% of those identified as future-ready cited the importance of digital twins for achieving their forward plans.
  • Data analytics, using more sources of data, and doing more to integrate, analyze, secure, and extract value from the data. This includes cybersecurity data to better prepare for cyberattacks.
  • Funding diversification, particularly private-sector financing, government-based borrowing, and privatization of assets.
  • Citizen engagement and trust, via both traditional and digital means of communication, involving citizens in decision-making, and creating new roles like chief citizen officer.

But for many cities, becoming future-ready is easier said than done. Cities face resource challenges around unclear returns on investment, shortage of skills, and budget constraints; technology headaches around finding the right suppliers and the pace of technology change; and political pain points around governance complexity and administration transition.

Future investment plans

Despite the hurdles, the study shows that cities are ramping up their technology investments across all key urban domains. Cities intend to spend US$422 million on average cumulatively over the next five years, or about US$570 per citizen. Future-ready cities plan to outspend others across the following domains:

  • Digital infrastructure: $205 per capita for future-ready cities vs. $105 for others
  • Energy, water, and other utilities: $154 per capita for future-ready cities vs. $99 for others
  • Mobility and transportation: $177 per capita for future-ready cities vs. $119 for others
  • Living and health: $117 per capita for future-ready cities vs. $62 for others
  • Environment and sustainability: $115 per capita for future-ready cities vs. $77 for others
  • Public safety and security: $88 per capita for future-ready cities vs. $45 for others

It is notable that although climate change is the top challenge cited most often by cities and citizens, cities plan to allocate less investment to the environment than to some other domains. This partly reflects a holistic approach to sustainability, which is built into the plans of various other domains. The environment, nonetheless, represents a huge opportunity for cities to invest in innovation locally to create jobs and build more sustainable, future-ready communities.

About ThoughtLab Group

ThoughtLab Group is an innovative thought leadership firm that creates fresh ideas through rigorous research and economic analysis. We specialize in assessing the economic, financial, and social impact of latest technology on cities, companies, industries, and world markets. Our services include fielding business, consumer, investor, and government surveys; organizing executive interviews, meetings, and advisory groups; conducting economic modeling, AI sentiment monitoring, benchmarking, and performance analysis; and developing white papers, eBooks, infographics, and customer-facing analytical tools.

About Hatch

Whatever our clients envision, our teams can design and build. With over six decades of business and technical experience in the mining, energy, and infrastructure sectors, we know your business and understand that your challenges are changing rapidly. We respond quickly with solutions that are smarter, more efficient, and innovative. We draw upon our 9,000 staff with experience in over 150 countries to challenge the status quo and create positive change for our clients, our employees, and the communities we serve. Find out more on

Research sponsors

Kevin Taylor, Segment Development Manager, Cities, Axis Communications; Andrea Sorri, Segment Development Manager, Smart Cities, Axis Communications; Angie Merrill, Senior Industry Marketing Manager, Axis Communications; Andreas Göransson, Global Enterprise Segment Marketing Manager, Axis Communications; Euan Davis, Associate Vice President, Cognizant Research; Eduardo Plastino, Director, Cognizant Research; Karen McCall, Director, Marketing, Cognizant; Maveric Galmiche, Market Analyst Cities & Public Services, Dassault Systèmes; Jacques Beltran, Vice President Cities & Public Services, Dassault Systèmes; Marion Milosevic, Solutions Strategy Director Cities/Public Services, Dassault Systèmes; Mahel Abaab-Fournial, Sales Strategy Director Cities/Public Services, Dassault Systèmes; Praveen Vyakaranam, Director, Strategy Lead, Digital Cities, Dell; Anuja Bajpai, Consultant, Marketing lead, Digital Cities, Dell; Bill Pfeifer, Director, Product Marketing, Edge, Dell; William Eggers, Executive Director, Deloitte Center for Government Insights; Mahesh Kelkar, Executive Manager, Deloitte; David Noone, Senior Manager, Deloitte; Rajit Dey, Center Marketer, Deloitte; Suzette Malek, Global Research Manager, GM; Chandra Sekhar Talluri, Product Manager, Smart City Incubation, GM; Heather Hardman, Product Marketing Lead, GM; Max Vega, Director, Business Strategy and Marketing, Intel; Sajid Khan, GM, Business Strategy and Marketing, Intel; Sameer Sharma, Global GM (Smart Cities & Transportation) for Networking & Edge Solutions; Susan O’Connor, Director, Services and Solutions Product Marketing, JLL Technologies; Abdo Al Habr, Partner, Kearney; Antoine Nasr, Global Head of Government Practice, Kearney; Rudolph Lohmeyer, Partner, Head of National Transformations Institute, Kearney; Swetha Menon, Senior Marketing Specialist, Kearney; Daria Shevchenko, Marketing Manager, Kearney; Bill Baver, Vice President Smart Solutions, NTT; Bennett Indart, Vice President Smart Solutions, NTT; Vito Mabrucco, Head of Global Marketing, NTT; Theodore Waddelow, Head of Sustainability & Mobility Policy, Visa; Stephen Cooles, Global Head of Partner Development, Visa.

City leaders (advisors)

Miquel Rodriguez Planas, Commissioner for 2030 Agenda, Barcelona City Council; Jamie Cudden, Smart City Program Manager, Dublin City Council; Dr. Peter Pirnejad, City Manager, Los Altos Hills, CA; Clay Pearson, City Manager, Pearland, TX; Emily Yates, Chief Innovation Officer, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority; Gianluca Galletto, former Managing Director, Technology and Innovation Partnerships, Office of the Chair, New York Housing Authority; Oyvind Tanum, Head of Smart City, Trondheim, Norway; Borg Tsien Tham, Deputy Permanent Representative to ASEAN, Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Aram Chaparyan, City Manager, Torrance, CA; Mike Grigsby, former Director of Innovation and Technology, Sioux Falls, SD; Bayan Konirbayev, Chief Digital Officer, Almaty City, Kazakhstan; Peter Nöu, IT Strategist, Smart City Infrastructure & Innovation, Uppsala, Sweden; Sharmila Muhkerjee, Executive Vice President, Planning and Development, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Austin; Benjamin Branham, Chief Communications Officer, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey; In Dong Cho, Metropolitan Government Former First Vice Mayor, Seoul, South Korea; Bill Cashmore, Deputy Mayor, Auckland City Council; Edson Gómez, Chief Information Officer, Office of the Mayor of Bucaramanga, Colombia; Bob Leek, Deputy Chief Information Officer, Clark County, NV; Gia Biagi, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Transportation; Nicole Raimundo, Chief Information Officer, Cary, NC; Jennifer Sanders, Executive Director, Dallas Innovation Alliance; Julia Thompson, Smart Cities, Data and Planning, Consultant, London, UK.

Academic advisors

Karen Lightman, Executive Director, Metro21: Smart Cities Institute, Carnegie Mellon University; Joan E. Ricart, Professor, IESE Business School; Eugenie Birch, Professor, The Penn Institute for Urban Research; Kyung-Hwan Kim, Professor of Economics, Sogang University, Seoul, South Korea; Frank V. Zerunyan, Professor, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California; Henry Liu, Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Jian Liu, Professor of Urban Planning and Design, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China; Yu Qi, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, Nankai University, Tianjin, China; John Rome, Deputy CIO for Partnerships, Cloud Innovation Center, Arizona State University; Ryan Hendrix, General Manager, Cloud Innovation Center, Arizona State University; Diana Bowman, Co-Director, Center for Smart Cities and Regions, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University; Maosheng Lai, Professor, School of Information Management, Peking University, Beijing, China; Dr. Sanjay Modak, Assistant Professor, Chair, Graduate Programs and Research Department, Rochester Institute of Technology–Dubai.

Media and association partners

Chris Cooke, Founder and CEO, Smart Cities World; Philip Bane, Managing Director, Smart Cities Council; Kari Aina Eik, Executive Director, United Cities; Yi Wang, Head of Global Development Program, ANBOUND; Ulrich Ahle, Chief Executive Officer, Fiware; Chungha Cha, Co-founder and Chief Technical Officer, Reimagining Cities LLC; Nicolas Buchoud, Founding Principal, Renaissance Urbaine; Sameh Naguib Whaba, Director, Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice, World Bank; Kris Moon, Urban Development Specialist, Asian Development Bank; Alice Charles, Lead, Cities, Infrastructure & Urban Services, World Economic Forum; Jeff Merritt, Head of Urban Transformation, World Economic Forum; Jim Haskins, Director of Community Engagement, Open Sustainability Collaborative; Michelle James, Vice President, Strategic Industry Programs, CTIA; Dr. Chen Yu Lee, Consultant, Taipei Computer Association; Anita Chen, Deputy Secretary General, GO SMART; Fengyu Li, Professor of Urban Design and Innovation, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, China; President, SPD Planning & Design Corporation, Beijing; Pablo Marmissole Daguerre, Chief of Staff, United Cities and Local Governments; Tony Silva, General Manager, Public Sector, Edelman; Jayant Kohale, Business Advisor, Consultant, Mumbai, India.


For more information:
Lou Celi, Chief Executive Officer

ThoughtLab Group

Gina Egan, Marketing Director

ThoughtLab Group


error: Content is protected !!