About the Atlas

These case studies were created by Cornell Tech students enrolled in a Spring 2023 course, "Smart Cities: Requirements, Ambitions, and Limitations", taught by Dr. Anthony Townsend. The course syllabus can be found here.

This course examined the concept of “smart cities” as a sociotechnical movement that seeks to expand the use of digital technologies in urban development, service delivery, and governance. This movement began in the 1990s, and coalesced during the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8 when global tech vendors like IBM, Cisco, and Siemens exploited an opportunity to port digitalization solutions from the private sector to municipal governments. Now, consumer-facing companies like Google, Amazon, and Uber are part of a shift to “urban tech”, bringing new technologies, more money, new business models, and more aggressive approaches to government affairs and deregulation.

This course explored the concept of smart cities by examining three broad categories of capabilities that this movement seeks to achieve:

  • requirements (capabilities that smart cities solutions must have in order to reach commissioning stage);
  • aspirations (capabilities that many smart city solutions seek to achieve, or values and characteristics stakeholders would like to impose on them); and
  • limitations (desirable capabilities where smart cities are seen as deeply wanting to date, and will likely struggle to achieve). These capabilities are illustrated and examined through a series of critical place-based case studies of large, ambitious and technology-driven urban development projects in cities around the world.

Through these investigations and case studies, students gained a thorough understanding of the engineering considerations involved in the technology design, as well as social, economic, and political factors influencing how technologies are assessed ahead of time and how system performance is evaluated following deployment.

Upon completion of the course, students are able to:

  • Understand smart city capabilities, their costs and benefits, and their overall state of development;
  • Understand key stakeholders in smart city innovation and diffusion, including their goals and motivations, and resources and constraints—including city governments, corporations, entrepreneurs, and NGOs;
  • Understand how to unpack and critique claims of government officials, entrepreneurs and business leaders, and citizens regarding specific smart city projects and technology solutions;
  • Understand how foresight and strategic planning is used in the smart cities movement to assess, anticipate, and adapt to technological, economic, and social change.



  • Rowan Wu

Design and Coding

  • Ben Oldenburg

Data Managmeent

  • Sriya Challa
  • Tsung-Yin Hsieh
  • Vikranth Kanumuru
  • Sourabh Singh