Are you smart enough to benefit from the new wave of smart technologies set to revolutionise the way cities are built and function?
By that I don’t mean your IQ (although that might help) but the personal equipment that will be needed to access the advantages that will come with this: smart phones, smart meters, wearable devices and even Internet access. All these come at a price and require some level of techno-savvy-ness. So how are urban planners, designers and developers going to ensure that cities of the future are inclusive and accessible to all?
Why is this happening now?
In the 1950s only 10% of the world’s population lived in cities, but this had risen to 55% by 2018 and is projected to reach 68% by 2050 (United Nations, 2018). Whilst many computer technologies have also been around since the 50s and 60s, their trajectory of development is only now coming to a pinnacle, as many of their cost bases have fallen and their efficiency increased. So great are the changes expected to be in terms of the “technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds” that many are heralding this to be the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Erixon and Young, 2016). So what impact can we expect this to have on our cities?
What are Smart Cities?
A Smart Cities exemplify “the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens” (BSI, 2014).
A smart city is “well performing in a forward-looking way in economy, people, governance, mobility, environment, and living, built on the smart combination of activities of self-decisive, independent and aware citizens” (Gifﬁnger et al., 2007). This has been well represented by the following Diamond:
(Clean India Journal, 2017).
In most definitions there is a need for the citizens to participate, for them to be connected, engaged, collaborative and ‘smart’. How can we ensure that these digital technologies don’t unintentionally impede inclusion? Making sure that “historically marginalized communities, including low-income, elderly, immigrant, and disabled residents [who], have not always shared in the prosperity of urban revitalization” do so in the future (Deloitte, 2019).
How can Smart City planning be inclusive?
It seems that the most inclusive smart cities are derived from planning based on citizens-centric needs rather than the capabilities of the digital technologies themselves. “The latest generation of smart cities uses data, digital technology, and human-centred design to promote decision-making, not only by government but also by residents, businesses, and other city stakeholders” (Deloitte, 2019).
The two enablers that best address the participation barriers of costs and technology accessibility are: “Digital and Technology” and “Finance and funding” which are inevitably intertwined.
Ensuring a family’s ability to access digital services has a three-legged approach:
- Internet access – geographical and economic gaps in broadband availability and speed adequacy must be plugged/enhanced to ensure that no households are excluded from participation due to network inadequacies.
- Hardware – routers and computers and/or laptops need to be accessible. One way would be to ensure affordable plans or neighbourhood schemes by insisting on competitive procurement initiatives to make providers offer cheap plans to low-income homes. Or designate underprivileged areas as Enterprise Zones with preferential tax rates.
- Skills – adoption levels need to be raised by giving people the skills they need to use the Internet. Digital literacy programs should be rolled out though accessible organisations, targeting those most likely to struggle with these concepts. Set government sponsored innovation challenges to encourage private investors to find solutions to inclusion.
Will these measures be inclusive enough?
It seems to me that addressing internet availability, equipment costs and even training in use of digital technologies is just scratching the surface of meeting the needs of many of society’s most vulnerable. There will need to be a great many more adaptations to ensure that the disabled, the deaf, blind and immobile, the illiterate or non-English speakers and many other minorities are also able to participate. Especially since these groups are those who will be set to benefit the most from smart technologies and infrastructure. Imagine how their health care, social interaction, community support services, transport, communication and cultural/leisure are all going to be enhanced, if only they get to play a part.
BSI (2014), Smart cities framework – Guide to establishing strategies for smart cities and communities, PAS 181:2014
Centre for Cities (2014) What is a Smart City? Available at: https://www.centreforcities.org/reader/smart-cities/what-is-a-smart-city/. Accessed on: 28/12/19.
Clean India Journal. (2017). Smart Diamond to define Smart City. Available at: https://www.cleanindiajournal.com/changing-role-of-facility-manager-in-the-smart-world/smart-diamond-to-define-smart-city/. Accessed on: 30/12/19.
Deloitte. (2019). Inclusive smart cities. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/public-sector/inclusive-smart-cities.html. Accessed on: 02/01/20
Erixon, A. and Young, A. (2016). Technological Disruption and the Real Estate Industry: How Technology is Changing Our Business and Opening a World of Opportunity. Available at: https://www.avisonyoung.com/documents/20342/69545959/aytopicalreport-techdisruption-june8-16final.pdf . Accessed on: 30/12/19.
Giffender, R., Fertner, C., Kramar, H., Kalasek, R., Pichler-Milanović, N., Meijers, E. (2007) Smart cities: ranking of European medium-sized cities. Vienna: Centre of Regional Science – Vienna UT.
MartyIOM. (2009). File: Three Legs of Man. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Three_Legs_of_Man_-_Triskelion.jpg. Accessed on: 02/01/20.
Memoori. (2015). Wireless technologies battle for internet of things supremacy. Available at: https://memoori.com/wireless-technologies-battle-internet-things-supremacy/. Accessed on: 29/12/19.
Smart City UK. (2019). Home. Available at: https://www.smartcityuk.com/. Accessed on: 28/12/19.
United Nations (2018). 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, say UN. Available at: https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html. Accessed on: 30/12/19.
Wikipedia. (2019). Smart City. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_city. Accessed on: 28/12/19.