Smart cities – why, what, how, how?

Some advice for people promoting a Smart City approach. Prepare your answers to the following questions:

1.      Why do we need “smart” and do we even need cities any more?

First, provide a clear and simple explanation of why cities are important ie what they do that is special: they arrange physical buildings within spatial networks to create intensifications of opportunities for people to interact and transact, socially and economically. Acknowledge the interdependencies between cities, towns and villages but emphasise the primacy of cities.

Second, explain how this process is facilitated by the propinquity and connectivity that cities offer – traditionally physical connectivity and, increasingly, digital.

Third, describe the threats to the efficiency of cities: gradual, sprawling growth; over-reliance on private cars.

Fourth, describe the consequences of inefficiency: economic inefficiency, social isolation, unhealthy living, short-term investment, environmental degradation.

Fifth, speculate on the further risks associated with a “same as usual” approach.

Sixth, explain that the unintended consequences of city planning derive from leadership decisions based on poor evidence of how cities work and poor forecast models of how they would work post-implementation.

Seventh, describe the opportunities of a “smart” approach: using data capture and analysis to create better models of how cities work and how they are changing; then, as a consequence, better ideas of how cities should change and more robust, risk-reduced forecasts of how they will change to the benefit of economic, social, health, financial and environmental outcomes.

B.      With so much technology available, what can/should we measure, how do we prioritise and how do we avoid data-overload?

This is where examples of good practice matter, including the “patterns” that Rick Robinson describes. Likewise, pilots should be carefully evaluated eg the Glasgow Future City Demonstrator.

What is the state of current “best practice” in the various industries serving the Smart City marketplace? How are industries evolving and emerging to anticipate Smart City requirements. What is the likely future shape of a “digital urbanism“.

The Smart Cities endeavour isn’t starting from scratch and this fact should be a reassurance for stakeholders, but those involved need to demonstrate an awareness of this precedent.

The 7-year programme of urban evaluation undertaken by the Academy of Urbanism as part of its “Awards” process is a valuable resource. Likewise, the AoU’s “City X-rays” programme sets out a series of measurable processes and analytic products, which describe how cities work for people in, principally, a physical and spatial way. There are, of course, many other resources available such as the UK Government’s Urban Design Compendium, in which standards are implied, if not actually named as such, both processes and products. Mapping the transpatial processes of digital information flow is an obvious next step.

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