Cities at their core are about citizens — the intermingling of diverse sets of people who live, work, visit and play there. Together they create a rich social fabric that transcends buildings, streets and services to form a culture, an identity.
All city leaders understand the need to maintain strong connections between citizens, neighborhood networks, government officials and private companies. Yet, all too often, Smart City efforts focus on systems and technologies designed for top-down efficiency without fully integrating the perspectives of the people whose lives will be impacted.
The bottom line is, when we talk about Smart Cities, we aren’t smart if we’re not all involved.
Early examples we can learn from include Songdo, South Korea and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi – both very ambitious built-from-scratch community reinventions. The main focus for those Smart Cities was adopting innovative technology to drive efficiency, environmental sustainability, and economic development – not so much engaging the citizen. Partnerships consisted of high tech companies, innovative financing banks, university consortiums and such, with less emphasis on meeting ordinary citizens’ needs. Some of these state-led top-down city developments are being criticized for being “so digitally wired, they lose the essence of sociability.”