About the concept of Smart Cities

“What is a smart city?” I get this question quite often when I tell people I am studying a master in Smart Cities. Some people are new to the concept while others already have some notions on what a smart cities are. Those last will ask: Is it putting sensors to monitor the city, it is having wifi everywhere, it is about been more environmentally sustainable?

To this kind of questions I usually answer that Smart Cities is such a broad term it can include all that, and much more. It is about making cities more liveable, about increasing the amount of data gathered by installing sensors, having better connectivity both in the sense of transport system and ICTs being more sustainable, not only environmental but also at a social and economical level…

Many definitions have been made, and I will not attempt here to add one more definition. I will, however, try to discuss here my vision on this concept, taking into account what I have seen so far about it.

I like to think about Smart Cities as an umbrella concept that covers all the different applications, ideas, initiatives… that aim to somehow improve some aspect of cities. In this sense, something “small”, like an app to know the bus timetable, can be found under this umbrella at the same time as something as “big” as a city platform that coordinates all services, sensors and everything going on in a city. Similarly, the term can encompass technology-based solutions, such as sensor deployment to optimize the traffic, or non-technological solutions such as the creation of green corridors along the city.

Moreover, when talking about the objectives a smart city should pursue, I like the classification that is used in many cases, that a smart city should improve and be sustainable in three fronts or axis: environmental, social and economic. It cannot be forgotten that the final purpose is to make cities better for citizens, both the current dwellers of the city and the future ones, and therefore, any smart city approach has to be citizen centred and with a long term vision. Also, there are some key terms that go alongside smart city, such as are resilience, predictability, collaboration and transparency.

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Future city by Neil Kremer on Flickr.

There are concerns about the term being overused, and most certainly it is important to be careful it does not become an empty concept. However, I believe that understanding that the term”smart city” is sometimes used more as this broad umbrella than an idealized goal can also take some pressure off this term.

In this sense, “smart city” could be more like a pathway a city walks to become a better city, than an end goal defining what the city has to become. So a city that chooses to walk this “smart” pathway, chooses to use ICTs, innovation, collaboration principles and any other “smart city” tool, in order to strive for greater social, environmental and economic sustainability.

I will finish up on my thoughts by adding that this is, necessarily, a concept in constant evolution. As cities walk their “smart city pathway” and encounter new difficulties, challenges and also new outcomes, definitions of the term and the initiative will have to evolve and new ones will appear.

PS: I am in constant learning, so I am sure my vision on this subject will keep reshaping and evolving. You are all welcome to comment on and debate my ideas as long as it is in a constructive manner.

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