FEBRUARY 16, 2023

Cities and the Metaverse:

A Connected Future

NYU SPS Metaverse Collaborative to Host the First Summit on Cities and the Metaverse in NYC this April

By Marc Beckman, Elizabeth Haas, Greg Lindsay, and Harmen van Sprang

Cover image:  "Winter Scene in the VR WSPark, Metaverse Exhibition Space on Social VR Platform Sansar, Built and Organized by New Media Artist Snow Yunxue Fu - Assistant Arts Professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, co-hosted by DSLCollection".

Imagine a near future where the physical and virtual worlds converge – a future where what you see and what you do is more immersive, dynamic, sensory, and capable of delivering a richer experience. Imagine, for a moment, being able to see the sustainability statistics of a building before you enter it, walking with your father in his old neighborhood from 50 years ago, or meeting a college friend in a museum in Rotterdam looking at the actual art you studied together ten years ago. 

These new experiences, made possible today by the metaverse, enable individuals, businesses, and brands to interact and connect in entirely new and different ways. But these metaverse-inspired experiences, rich and rewarding as they are, come with risk and uncertainty. 

All of us who grew up on the internet need to begin thinking of the metaverse as an internet with higher stakes – in terms of both risks and rewards. The stakes are higher because the metaverse is more immersive, collects more data, creates more connections, has more potential, and carries with it more significant implications. We define the metaverse as the enrichment of the physical world by the digital world and vice versa. This enrichment combines burgeoning and maturing technologies: digital imaging that enriches user experience, digital assets that engage and reward users, AI that personalizes online environments, and decentralized ecosystems that allow creators and consumers to own more of their data. Together, these technologies are shaping the internet of tomorrow. 

The metaverse is creating opportunities, and they matter. It matters to businesses and their leaders, with 86% of CEOs saying it will impact how they build brands and customers as well as employee relationships. The metaverse matters even more to cities and mayors because it creates the next generation of community, citizen engagement, and commerce – all fundamental drivers of a city’s current and future success.

The metaverse matters to cities, not in the future, but now. And that is why the NYU SPS Metaverse Collaborative, in conjunction with Sharing Cities Alliance, and Cornell’s  Jacob’s Urban Tech Hub, will be hosting our first Summit on Cities and the Metaverse on April 27-28, 2023, in New York City.

Instead of waiting for the metaverse to become more entrenched, more well-known, and more accepted as a platform, cities across the globe, from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi and from Miami to Singapore, are already acting, And NYU SPS is at the forefront of showcasing the benefits to cities with the creation of this unique summit


Metaverse Benefits for Cities

Why are these and other  cities rushing headfirst into the metaverse? The answer is power and potential — the power it creates and the potential it holds. For example: 

  • As a driver of economic development that allows cities to form new clusters of industries, market sectors, and companies, resulting in new businesses, new public-private partnerships, new funding sources, new creator economies, and new avenues for growth.
  • As a community engagement vehicle that enables cities to reach, connect, engage, and serve citizens in new ways (and connect with each other), resulting in more robust communities, healthier relationships, more active participation, and improved access for all.

  • As an identification and branding tool that ensures cities become known for what they do best, making cities more attractive as places to live, work, visit, and invest in.


Whole industries are already benefiting from these capabilities. Immersive learning is reshaping education; NFTs are revolutionizing community engagement in sports and entertainment; digital twins are making it easier for real estate and car companies to experiment without risk; and the list goes on and continues to grow.

For cities, the power of the metaverse comes from its ability to form new, deeper kinds of connection. When we asked a select set of city mayors what the metaverse is and does for them, we received different answers:

  • In Singapore, the metaverse is the future of finance, bringing the investors of tomorrow together.

  • In Rotterdam, the metaverse is the future of urban planning, with digital twins bringing the physical and the digital together.

  • In Miami, the metaverse is the future of cryptocurrencies, which attract Silicon Valley-type start-ups and entrepreneurs.

  • In Cincinnati, the metaverse is the future of consumer goods companies, which are reinventing their branding and engagement strategies.

Although the mayors had different answers, a common theme ran through their responses: it’s about taking action now to create the future. The real question then becomes:  how can all cities lean into this evolution and define what it means for them?


Welcoming Your City Into the Metaverse…Now

As more cities harness the future of the metaverse, the need to act now will become clearer and more compelling. A “wait and see” approach will only cause a city to fall behind and face steeper competition and higher costs. 

To mitigate a city’s risks and inspire action, we have developed a rudimentary playbook  for cities to use in designing and refining their paths:  

1. Envision what success in the metaverse looks like for the city (capability, talent, engagement, economics)

2. Build a portfolio of potential opportunities

    a. Identify current strengths, capabilities, and potential limitations 

    b. Identify potential needs/value 

    c. Flesh out potential investments/experiments and how they will shift the citizen’s experience

3. Establish a coalition or community of actors with a shared focus (e.g. major businesses, not-for-profits, and city governments)

4. Develop decision and feedback mechanisms – keeping equality, inclusion, and diversity in mind.

    a. Plan to ensure safety and equitable access to VR, AR, and other technologies.

    b. Collaborate with other cities to scale solutions.

5. Get started.


The Bottom Line

In our work with cities, we’ve learned that getting started is the hardest part. For one, cities are not designed to experiment with ideas. While pursuing the metaverse is risky, the cities that stand still will get left behind. Choose instead  to push forward by bringing the right people together, recognizing what you do best, building on what you already have, and capturing the opportunities that the metaverse offers. Now is the time for cities to rise to the occasion.

The NYU SPS Metaverse Collaborative is hosting the first summit on Cities and the Metaverse in NYC on April 27-28, 2023. 

  • If you are interested in participating, please SIGN-UP here. 


Related Articles