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What Is A Smart City Solution’s Greatest Pitfall? – Putting Tech First Over People.

As technology such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices get better, more and more city planners are implementing Smart City solutions. But are these smart city solutions really improving the lives of its residents, businesses, and visitors? This article explores why many smart city solutions are not really beneficial and gives recommendations for implementing people-first smart city solutions.

Most Smart City Definitions Miss The Point Of People First

smart city

First, let’s start with some definitions of what a Smart City is. Amazingly, most definitions of smart cities are focused on technology. Moreover, in most smart city definitions, people who live in these cities are a lower priority than achieving technology efficiencies.. For example, see below for smart city definitions focused on the efficient use of  information and communications technology (ICT). Also in contrast is another definition focused on the benefits of people and businesses .

Examples of smart city definitions focused on information and communications technology (ICT).

“A smart city is a technologically modern urban area that uses different types of electronic methods and sensors to collect specific data. Information gained from that data is used to manage assets, resources and services efficiently; in return, that data is used to improve operations across the city.”


“one that makes optimal use of all the interconnected information available today to better understand and control its operations and optimize the use of limited resources.”

Now, an example of a smart city definition focused on people first.

“A Smart City is a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of its inhabitants and business.”

European Commission 

I personally like this last smart city definition as it focuses on the ”benefit of its inhabitants and business”.  This is because this definition allows for innovation, a social innovation, where we focus on people first solutions. However, even this definition is lacking in that its focuses is solely on efficiency vs focused on improving peoples’ lives in general. Bottom line, cities should not just focused on building the next “hot” technology solution because they can build it. It’s people first.

The Real Purpose of Smart Cities – People, Not The Next New Technology.

“If you invite more cars, you get more cars. If you make more streets better for cars you get more traffic. If you make more bicycle infrastructure you get more bicycles. If you invite people to walk more and use public spaces more, you get more life in the city. You get what you invite.”

Jan Gehl

So to expand on the definition of Smart Cities, the primary purpose of smart cities is to increase productivity, livability, and sustainability. Also, it is important for us to define what makes smart cities smart, Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Specifically, the Internet of Things (IoT) technology includes devices such as connected sensors, meters, and lights.

For more detailed information on IoT technology, see SC Tech Insights’ Internet Of Things Examples.

So to recap, smart cities use technology and data-driven solutions to collect and analyze data to better serve and improve the lives of residents, businesses, and visitors. Consequently by utilizing IoT, automation, and AI technology, cities are able to reduce energy consumption, improve public safety, and promote better public services. Also, smart cities use technology to connect citizens with one another and to their city, creating a sense of community. The end result of a smart city solution is to increase productivity, livability, and sustainability of the city for its people.

“All the cities of the world are going to expand. We need to have a better understanding of what makes good urban habitat for home sapiens. We have an obligation to make the new places more livable, more sustainable, more healthy. we have the tools.”

Jan Gehl

Smart City and IoT Solutions – People First, Not Technology.

Jan Gehl – Danish architect and urban design consultant - thoughts on smart city solutions
Jan Gehl – Danish architect and urban design consultant based in Copenhagen whose career has focused on improving the quality of urban life by re-orienting city design towards the pedestrian and cyclist.

Smart city and IoT technology do not just focus on information and communications technology (ICT) innovation, but also social innovation. By utilizing technology, cities are able to create more efficient and effective systems. This in turn, enables cities to manage resources, improve public transportation, and provide citizens with access to services and amenities. Also, smart cities use technology to promote economic development and foster a sense of community among citizens. 

Ideally cities should only implement a smart city technical solution, be it IoT or AI, if it makes life easier for its people. Whereas a smart city technology solution should not be an end in itself. For instance, there are too many times where city planners get caught up in a hyped-up technology or efficiency over livability. In many cases, it is misdirected government-driven regulations and incentives favoring a special interest group that drives smart city projects. Hence, many city planners do not focus on smart city solutions on the needs of their residents. 

“It’s interesting to see which cities of the world are on the list of livable cities. They’re always the cities that are sweet to their people.”

Jan Gehl

Suggested People-First Smart City Solution Guidelines.

Below are 5 recommended smart city guidelines for city planners.

1. Make Cities More Livable For Inhabitants Now and For The Future. 

A smart city is a framework of safety and quality for our urban environments. Specifically, it is walkable, offers convenience to public facilities, access to transport and natural environments are keys to livability. Additionally, smart city initiatives are affordable for all residents and are sustainable for future generations.

2. Focus On Social Innovation First, Which Drives Tech Innovation. 

Social innovation aims to generate social benefits rather than individual benefits. Most importantly, social innovation brings new values and complements that community. Furthermore, this means city planners are not swayed by special interest groups, lobbyists, or just one section of the community at the expense of the remaining residents. Lastly, cities should implement smart city solutions that better all residents that include reduced poverty, increased employability, increased health, and increased opportunities for all residents.

3. Technology Must Enhance Human Interaction. 

Technology infrastructure is focused on human interaction and information sharing. As a result, technology solution build up communites and enhances social bonds versus isolating and segregating communities and individuals.

4. No Infrastructure Information Silos. 

The whole purpose of ICT technology is to share information and make it actionable. As a result, any information silos in a smart city inhibit having the best information at the right place and time. Further, this data is also critical for optimizing the smart city now and in support of the changing needs of the inhabitants and business in the future. Lastly, this information sharing includes public input, bottom-up approach, to shape future smart city innovations.

5. Focus on the Civic and Neighborhood Level. 

At this level is where smart cities and IoT technology will benefit its inhabitants improving housing, commerce, and uban infrastructure. Additionally, this includes solicitating ideas at the community level to identify the needs of the people versus just assuming what they need.

See NIH Library of Medicine’s Smart Cities for Technological and Social Innovation for more discussion on smart cities and social innovation.

Overall, creating a people-first smart city is essential for creating a better quality of life for citizens. Technology should be used to enhance the lives of people, not just as a means to an end. Smart cities should be designed to solve real problems, not just to implement flashy gadgets and technologies.

See Supply Chain Tech Insights for more articles on Transportation.  Also, see SC Tech Insights’ Smart City And IoT – The Best Opportunities And The Challenges.

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