There is a lot of focus on the concept of 'Smart Cities' at the moment. The capacity for the Internet of Things (IoT) to power just about anything in a community, from the streetlights to the waste bins right through to cars and the roads themselves, and provide data in real time, means that we now have an unprecedented capacity to make our cities run with greater efficiency and productivity than ever before.
However, too often the benefits of Smart Cities are expected to be self-evident. The mistaken belief is that simply building IoT-based applications for a city is sufficient to improve a citizen's quality of life. In our drive towards hyper-connected and ultra-efficient cities, there's a real need to make sure that, rather than just building IoT into a community for the sake of it, we're working towards each component of a smart city having real and measurable citizen outcomes.
Perhaps we should be thinking about these things in terms of building Good Cities, rather than Smart Cities. Environments where the health, security and lifestyle of a citizen is enhanced, not just through the existence of these IoT-enabled technologies, but because the city, and community, is then actively using these technologies as a platform and launching pad towards highly customised solutions that account for the specific needs of the citizens.
So, in addition to rolling out smart lighting, smart bins, environmental sensors, and so on, which monitor the city in real time and provide information to residents or government bodies as needed, the next step towards developing Good Cities is to start embracing principles behind the sharing economy to foster a stronger sense of community and participation by all people in an area.
The potential for government at all levels, and communities, to collaborate better and more efficiently through Good Cities is real. Digitised services can be made more accessible to a wider range of people, and these services can be made more accessible in more ways; reducing the need to travel (or the reliance on a car) can help those with minimal mobility, or those that lack access to a car or public transport.
Car sharing services could be provided to a larger number of people, or health, housing, and community support services can be made more available and on an on-demand basis. More than anything else, the idea of a Good City is that the barriers between the community and government services can be broken down, without introducing additional inefficiency in the ability for government to execute on its services.
The other great focus of Good Cities needs to be an understanding that no one gets left behind. The disadvantaged, minority and niche communities within a city have a real risk of being further marginalised by these technology solutions if they're rolled out without consideration for language, cultural, economic, or social conditions of the vulnerable.
A successful Good City would take the technology being rolled out, and open it up as a platform that these groups are then able to use to apply to their own communities to improve their quality of life and participation within the broader community.
Smart Cities only work as a concept when technology and the IoT is used with the explicit purpose of improving citizen outcomes; that they're used to create Good Cities. The potential is that, with the data that is collected through these technologies, and the efficiency that is enabled through them, Smart Cities could be viewed purely as an initiative to improve government efficiency, cut costs, or for corporate to find new revenue streams.
Smart City design used in this way will not generate the maximum outcomes that the technology currently promises. Only by remembering that all of this needs to be done for the benefit of citizens and communities will Smart Cities initiatives find their maximum traction.