What makes cities Smart?
Cities face complex challenges but they also offer a setting where people and organizations together can find solutions and opportunities. In smart cities, creativity, innovation, and enterprise combine with technology and data to develop innovative solutions to urban challenges and citizens’ needs.
A smart city is currently the ‘most popular formulation for the future city and is becoming a globally recognized term, replacing or co-existing with terms in other languages’. It has displaced ‘sustainable city’ and ‘digital city’ as the word of choice to denote ICT-led urban innovation that addresses sustainability issues.
But becoming a smart city doesn’t necessarily mean being a resilient or sustainable city. Some smart city initiatives are driven by a vision of technology for the sake of technology. They fill their cities with smart technologies but they are not clear on what problem these will solve and have little understanding of the needs of the citizens. These projects are often shaped by large technology companies that want to sell their smart city solutions. Amid the heavy marketing of smart city products and services, it is hard to find evidence of impacts in the real world.
Other cities have set out with a belief that smart technology such as smart meters, electric vehicles, a smart grid, or city control centers will solve their city challenges but concern themselves with working out where to deploy the smart technology rather than first being
clear about its purpose, identifying the problem and then considering whether smart technology is the right solution (Moir et al., 2014).
An integrated approach to planning and management is needed if smart cities are to become more sustainable and resilient. The 100 Resilient Cities network is helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the twenty-first century. The network describes city resilience through four dimensions:
- Health and well-being – everyone living and working in the city has access to what they need to survive and thrive
- Economy and society – the social and financial systems that enable urban populations to live peacefully and act collectively
- Leadership and strategy – the processes that promote effective leadership, inclusive decision-making, empowered stakeholders, and integrated planning
- Infrastructure and environment – the man-made and natural systems that provide critical services, and that protect and connect urban assets, enabling the flow of goods, services, and knowledge.
If smart cities want to solve city challenges, their best first step is to bring together city stakeholders (government, business, universities, community organizations, public services, and citizens) to explore the complexity of the issues they face and involve them in collaborative decision making and future planning of their city. This will be the start of a journey in which the city understands its issues and explores solutions which might include smart technology solutions. However, 52% of city leaders cite gaining the support of citizens and other stakeholders as a main obstacle.
Moir, E., Moonen, T., & Clark, G. (2014). What are future cities? Origins, meanings, and uses. Compiled by The Business of Cities for the Foresight Future of Cities Project and the Future Cities Catapult. Published by Government Office for Science, Foresight. https://www. gov. uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/337549/14-820-what-are-future-cities. pdf.