What's a Smart City?

By  Sunniva Bratt Slette

Since the advent of cities in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago, civilization has developed shared facilities and systems − infrastructure – to make co-living possible, and ideally even convenient. Social interaction and sustainable access to resources has been the glue that kept societies together over time. The book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery [1] is a testament to how modern cities can excel by setting human relations at the core of urban design.

Research collected in the book provides food for thought:

  1. Serendipity = happiness: Seek a high social interaction potential. Did you ever consider how easy it is to create space and time for a meet-up with friends or family in your everyday life? Researchers have found that there are higher chances of being happy if you live in neighborhoods that enable serendipitous social encounters (that is, meetings that occur by chance in a happy or beneficial way).
  2. Sixteen minutes is golden: The trip most people wish they spent commuting is exactly sixteen minutes one way. The average person's golden equilibrium was found by researcher Patricia Mokhtarian.
  3. Walkability is key: One might also derive the famous "15-minute city" from the previous point, namely having most essential everyday locations and stores within a fifteen-minute range by foot, bike or public transport.
  4. Forty percent is the commuting premium: A person with a one-hour commute needs to earn forty percent more money to be as satisfied with life, as someone who walks to the office, according to researchers Stutzer and Frey.
  5. 45 minutes is the commuting limit: People who commute more than 45 minutes per day have a forty percent higher chance of being divorced than people who commute less than 45 minutes.
  6. Parking space is a treasure chest: There are eight parking spaces for every car in the US. Optimizing parking capacity and sharing mobility solutions may free up vast areas of urban space that holds value, in terms of well-being and commercial potential.
  7. Mixed urban planning optimizes cityscapes: The optimal cityscape consists of a mix of residential areas, workplaces, grocery stores, parks and vibrant spaces that enable mingling and cultural experiences across social groups.

The fascinating common denominator of successful cities worldwide seems to be open, welcoming spaces that are designed to stimulate social interaction between people. Co-design of cities should ideally involve all denizens: people, animals or plants that live in, or are found in, a particular place.

Investments in the solutions theme Smart Cities can potentially draw on the insights from the book. An example of a company that integrates social and environmental urban planning is Sekisui House, which is found in the Storebrand Global Solutions fund. Sekisui House is one of Japan's leading homebuilders with an international presence. It builds prefabricated wooden housing shaped after scientific data on psychology and human behavior to create more comfortable living environments. The company integrates sustainability issues in its building techniques, ranging from environmental technologies like net zero energy housing (ZEH), as well as advanced community-building expertise that blends with the surrounding ecosystem, in collaboration with local partners [2].

Another example is the mix of environmental and social urban planning found in the business models of Acciona and Arcadis, both portfolio companies in the Storebrand Smart Cities fund. The Spanish firm Acciona operates from the vision "business as UNusual", and develops renewable energy, mobility, green buildings and water treatment solutions. Desalination is one segment of particular interest in an era of increasingly scarce potable water. Arcadis is a dutch company with a global scope that offers sustainable design, engineering and consulting services on natural and built assets like urban infrastructure. The company also offers exposure to architecture, a segment with few listed companies. Future cities can, after all, be designed by starchitects.


[1] Charles Montgomery (2013), Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, FSG Books

[2] Sekisui House, Global Solutions,

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