The city won praise earlier this week from Harvard Law School professor Susan Crawford in a post on Medium's tech blog, the Backchannel, for its plan to become the "Smartest City in the World by 2040." But that recognition comes on the heels of a Medium post earlier in April from Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, the co-founders of Stockholm-based Spotify, who threatened to move out of Sweden unless the government improves conditions for startups.
The discrepancy between Crawford's and Spotify's assessments of Stockholm sheds a light on one of the biggest problems with smart city initiatives. While the solutions offered by these cities often are cutting-edge, they don't always address citizens' (including entrepreneurs') most pressing needs.
Crawford says that Stockholm does an excellent job of providing its citizens with broad, cheap fiber-optic internet access (which the government started investing in 20 years ago). While she acknowledges that Stockholm's high housing costs and the inability to offer stock options presents a challenge to startups, she still says that the high-quality internet access will prove to be an important building block to help the city lure innovative companies.
"It's no joke: Stockholm feels prosperous, energetic, and futuristic," she writes.
Meanwhile, Ek and Lorentzon also call out Sweden for its expensive housing and hefty taxes, but they come to a more drastic conclusion. "For a company like ours to grow further in Sweden, things must change quickly," according to an English translation of a blog post from Swedish news site The Local.
Ek and Lorentzon want the Swedish government to make programming classes mandatory in the elementary school system, and lower the income tax when employees exercise their stock options. It's currently at 70 percent, which makes it virtually impossible to offer employees stock options.
Not all Swedish entrepreneurs are so glum about the state of business in the Nordic country. Carl Waldekranz, the founder of Stockholm-based online marketplace Tictail, told Inc.'s Zoë Henry in August that the city has a "massive talent pool" that's proved beneficial to the startup. But Ek and Lorentzon aren't the only ones to face a smart city initiative that doesn't fit their needs.
In 2012, the United Kingdom launched its own "Future Cities" initiative, in which 30 cities were provided with £50,000 each to improve living and working conditions using new technology. But a report last week from the U.K.-based Institution of Engineering and Technology found that the marketing of the campaign hasn't gone so well. In a survey of 531 U.K. citizens, only a third were able to identify what a "smart city" is.
"Our research suggests that the British public currently places little value on these technologies, and clearly the benefits need further explanation," the researchers wrote.
Gary Walker, a program director on the Future City Glasgow Program, says that cities need to do more to get feedback from citizens before they start building their smart city.
"It's more than just doing something like adding intelligent streetlights," Walker tells Inc. "It's about actually engaging with the community, and saying, 'OK what challenges would you like to see solved?'"
Equally important is the follow-through, say Ek and Lorentzon.
"We have in recent years had lots of contact with politicians from the Stockholm City Council, the parliament, and the government. The response has been positive, but at the same time no real changes have occurred," Ek and Lorentzon wrote in their Medium post.