What Is a Smart City, and Why You Should Care

If you work or live in the DC Metro Region, by now you’ve probably heard rumblings about the upcoming development Gramercy District.

You may have also heard the mixed-use community surrounding Gramercy described as a “smart city.” These conversations are not reserved to only exist in the DC Metro.

So, what’s all the fuss about, and why should you be paying attention?


When the Loudoun Tech Coalition met to discuss this topic, smart city definitions ranged from Jetson-esque visions to more basic enhancements such as free WiFi. It’s no surprise that a variety of descriptions exist, because there’s still no one central definition or implementation of this idea. The smart city concept is new, and still evolving.

For the purpose of a quick explanation, I borrow from the Smart Cities Council that says a smart city should embody livability, workability, and sustainability through an enhanced digital and enabling infrastructure. In other words, a better live/work/play environment empowered by technology and developed with the future in mind.

This model of city planning is being expressed in a variety of forms, and not necessarily all at once in any one place. For example, Santa Cruz, California is becoming a smarter city through their predictive policing program launched in 2011. The core of this program uses data analytics for "the continuous identification of areas that are expected to experience increased levels of crime in a specified time-frame. The system divides a map of the city into 150-by-150-meter cells. Drawing upon a database of past criminal incidents, a computer algorithm assigns probabilities of crime occurring in each cell, giving greater weight to more recent crimes.”

Officers then focus on the locations on the map with the highest probability of crime and devote extra time to monitoring those regions. During the pilot of this program, burglaries dropped by 27 percent compared to the previous year. This is a great example of a city embracing and adopting technology to improve their city for residents and businesses – essentially, a smarter city.

Why you should care is based on your business. If you have a startup that’s rapidly producing and testing new iterations of your product, then a city like Gramercy, which promises to provide “a sandbox where ideas and projects can be tested live, city-wide” is a huge benefit. If your business provides services to families such as a day-care, then the reduced crime rates provided by a program such as that in Santa Cruz may be valuable in attracting and retaining clients to your location.

The startup and the smart community

Communities are becoming smarter and it’s important as a business owner to understand how you may benefit from smart communities, and how you can tap into the potential.