THE future lies in cities. Every year, the equivalent of seven New York Cities are added to the planet. By 2050, the world's urban population is expected to double. This urbanisation creates huge challenges but also real benefits for the communities that know how to make the most of the influx. The right cities can attract people with the skills, creativity and knowledge to propel economies and prosperity.

Smart civic leaders are beginning to focus on how they can attract brains and creativity. They're studying their city's services and shifting investment strategies so that, rather than simply trying to attract a bigger labour pool, they're creating a system of services that also draws in highly skilled, innovative citizens and knowledge-based, skills-intensive businesses. The quality of jobs, not just the quantity, will determine a city's future.

Still, this isn't an either/or game plan. It's one that focuses on building up a diversified workforce. Adapting a city's basic systems helps increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve the quality of life for every sector that makes a city hum. During the past three years, with more than 2000 city projects, we have learnt some of the smart lessons from smart cities around the world.

When it comes to attracting a higher-skilled workforce, cities need to do the following : reduce traffic congestion; improve public safety by cutting crime and emergency response times; tailor services with emphasis on education and training; creating more patient-focused healthcare.

Consider congestion, which can cut the gross domestic product of a community by as much as 4%. Predictive analytics, sensors and real-time alerts can go a long way to getting people and goods from one point to another in a city.

Some cities are considering the use of analytics to predict - and thus avoid - traffic jams an hour before they occur.

At the same time, the levels and quality of a city's talent pool can be directly tied to the levels of public safety. Centralised systems connecting data between emergency response departments lead to faster response times and the ability to identify patterns of incidents and reduce them. As an example, emergency resources in Madrid are co-ordinated, alerting the police, the ambulance service and the fire department simultaneously, and prioritise which responders and equipment to send, slashing response times by 25%.

Better health correlates with a higher quality of skills and knowledge, according to the United Nations. Smarter healthcare approaches integrate data from throughout the system to get a clear view of each patient's care.

The Xicheng district in Beijing, China, rolled out a system that uses electronic medical records to better manage the care of its 1 -million residents. This means citizens can get care in a local facility rather than having to go to central hospitals even for minor illnesses.

The future of cities is reliant on the people who live in them. Talent is a resource cities can attract. During the next decade, the number of highly educated international migrants around the world is expected to more than triple. Planning now is the way to secure progress.

. Bhat is software group executive at IBM SA.