Monday, July 29, 2013

Smart Cities are about people too

With all this talk about smart cities it is easy to forget that the future of cities is as much about people as it is about technologies. This is something Anthony Townsend addresses in his keynote speech at 2012 Code for America which critiques "smart cities" and observes the limited engagement with citizens in smart city rhetoric.

There is an increasing amount of interest in and claims to Smart Cities both by city governments and companies looking to provide their version of smart city intelligence to cities each seeking to promote their brand of city smarts. IBM and Cisco are such companies.

IBM Smart Cities

Operates on the basis that a city is made up of infrastructure, operations and people working as an interconnected system of systems. According to IBM a Smart City drives sustainable economic growth and prosperity. Cities are data driven and leaders can analyse data to make better decisions, anticipate problems and coordinate resources. By collecting and analyzing the extensive data generated every second of every day, tools such as the IBM Intelligent Operations Center coordinate and share data in a single view creating the big picture for the decision makers and responders who support the smarter city. Planning and management strategies include: public safety, smarter buildings and urban planning, government and agency administration; Infrastructure strategies include: Energy and water, environmental, transportation; Citizen programs include: social programs, healthcare, education.

IBM Smart cities include: Portland, Memphis, Rio de Janeiro. Rio is the most integrated and biggest example of the Smart City Operations Center.

Cisco Smart and Connected Communities: On their website Cisco describes their program thus:
As world populations shift to urban areas, community leaders are pressed for answers to related problems. These include overcrowding, pollution, budget and resource constraints, inadequate infrastructures, and the need for continuing growth. Cisco Smart+Connected Communities solutions use intelligent networking capabilities to bring together people, services, community assets, and information to help community leaders address these world challenges. By connecting the unconnected, we can do amazing things to address these real world challenges and create a more sustainable environment. 

Cisco Smart Cities include: Northern Ohio, City of Holyoke, San Francisco, and Amsterdam. 

The emphasis of these programs is to provide "smart" systems and technologies to assist in running cities efficiently and in ways that aim to make the city less polluted, less congested and less over-extended. But as Townsend noted, much of the talk is about the role of technology as a savior in these cities, relegating the actual human input aside. While it may be useful to predict where crime, emergencies or congestion may happen, it is also necessary to work on the underlying issues and to involve citizens in the process, empowering both themselves and the city.With so much data being generated by the city and its residents, it is also necessary to interrogate issues surrounding the collection and retention of such data, as well as ask what all of it is used for. Doing this may raise issues of surveillance and privacy, among other less sinister information and uses. However, by focusing on the technology as separate from people, many of these concerns have been rendered less visible, lending an element of neutrality to the systems and infrastructure of smart cities. This suggests that their needs to be a version of smart cities that not only is concerned with technology but which is inclusive of people. To be smart, cities must also engage their citizens in working toward solutions.

Others suggest that smart cities do not hold the answer for a greener, cleaner, safer, efficient, equitable and tolerant city. Indeed Kevin Slavin suggests that it is not smart cities and smart urbanisms to which we should be looking, but to new ways of living in the city:

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