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Municipal Innovation & the Smart City

What does the future hold for the Smart City?

1Oct

'When mayors and developers focus on technology rather than people, smart quickly becomes stupid’

When I first saw this quote in last month’s Time magazine I looked at it and thought – that makes a whole lot of sense, and it does, people should always be at the heart of a city’s plans.

But it’s important to look at the bigger picture; sure, some of the smart city initiatives are socially flawed, but they’re geared towards ensuring that people are capable of getting the most out of technological advancements in five, ten, even forty years time.

But it’s not just about the future - look at London’s Olympic games - without the implementation of an intelligent road management system, the underground would have been inoperative, seriously threatening to tarnish the smooth running of the games.

What is a cause for concern however is the erosion of the concept of sharing, especially on online platforms. Taskrabbit and Uber for example, were once heralded as the go-to-websites for onlookers looking to be socially aware; they helped normal people undertake normal tasks.

They’re now anything but that – they’ve slowly become wooed by the bright lights of venture capitalism and unwilling to help the people who got them to where they are today. These sites should have been the starting point for a more integrated city, where through technology, neighborhoods were more tightly knit than ever before.

Instead of filling in the gap between social classes, these platforms could expand it. If the lower classes get left behind, the elite will become ‘smarter’ and even more empowered, making it impossible for the lower classes to catch up . Perhaps then, the ‘smartest’ cities will encourage a type of sharing that doesn’t revolve around economic transactions but people’s eagerness to share information and help each other.

This will create platforms that solve real problems that don’t necessary have an economic value. Not only will this require innovation initiatives, it’ll need mayors and councils that don’t always define a company’s success by its bank balance.

Who knows what a smart city will constitute in forty years time? Some have said that our home will be the center of everything we do – increasing the weight behind the phrase ‘the home is where the heart is’. Whatever the case, the smartest cities will be the ones that offer intelligence across the board; because it’ll only be then that we’ll see a truly ‘smart’ city.

I think Time were right, smart will become stupid if mayors focus on technology rather than people. At the end of the day, it’s essential that technology is developed to enable people to be more integrated within their communities.

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