Ain’t we live in an era where smartness is no more about intelligence and skill but about having smartphones, laptops, assistants (we all are familiar with Alexa and Siri), smart appliances, and smart houses. The advancement of technology has overshadowed the parameters of living as the next Smart thing we are racing towards is SMART CITIES.
A smart city is an architectural concept that integrates technology and collects data to optimize the efficiency of operations in a City and connect its inhabitants possessing a positive impact on them. It uses the present physical infrastructure of the city through artificial intelligence and data analysis for enhanced economic and cultural development. Government institutions promote citizen participation and involvement in decision-making, creating room for adaptation to changed circumstances.
The goal of building a smart city is to improve the quality of life of its dwellers by providing technological solutions to the issues and tracking its development. In 2018, the United Nations Population Division (UNDP) reported that 55 percent of the world’s population lives in the urban area whereas the number is supposed to increase to 65 percent by 2050.
This growing number demands well-planned, adequately efficient cities that back up their smooth functioning and well-connected environment. Fabricating smart cities means making them aware of the facts that help rectify problems and how various systems of the city work individually and as a network.
In the 1970s, in Los Angeles, the first urban big data project called ‘A cluster analysis of Los Angeles’ was created that marked the beginning of the smart city concept. The creation of a virtual digital city- Amsterdam, marked as the first smart city in 1994 followed by IBM working on the Smart planet initiative in 2008. After 2009, many cities started working on Smart city concepts to excel in the architecture and construction industry that reflected those concepts.
Smart City Architecture is revolutionizing the concept of living, leading Humanity towards advancement. The questions that need to be addressed are: Is humankind the base factor governing how smarter cities are? Is the diversity of human needs and behavior at stake in what designers think is sustainable and Smart? Is the after-effects of a Smart city on human life analyzed and discussed before designing? Precisely, the main concern is: To what extent is it not technology but humans that are at the forefront of designing?
These queries need to be answered as Smart architecture is growing at a fast pace without being accountable for its users.
As Madeleine Akrich says, “the success or failure of innovations frequently depends on their ability to cope with dissimilar users possessing widely differing skills and aspirations,” the foremost consideration should be the user needs and benefit of acceptance of technologies by whole communities. Smart city design only considers a specific community and is not a unanimous approach. Moreover, it does not speculate on how other than considered users will respond to the ideologies and techniques of a Smart City.
The idea behind a collective smart city should be an inclusive approach to all the stakeholders (citizens, businesses, authorities, and organizations) and consider their valuable inputs in the active management of the city. The technological advancements have enabled us to share the details from the centralized system of the city to all stakeholders allowing tailored responses to various needs.
People should be kept in the loop with decision-making processes which results in better and informed decisions. The IoT devices enable direct interaction with the public that help in formulating proposals and initiatives. The collaborative activities, from the simplest ones of deciding the color of the new subway line to the major ones of demolishing a structure, boost transparency and all-inclusive decision making similar to the one done in the 2014 Vietnamese referendum where people are asked whether to turn one of the two most frequently used shopping streets into a pedestrian zone.
Empowering communities to participate throughout the planning process keeps them updated; for instance, taking suggestions and updates regarding the Vancouver Transit system through different social media platforms articulates an informed loop between authorities and people.
Providing people with real-time information about departure times and traffic congestion will ease the traveling process, users feeling more involved. Barcelona has incorporated a Smart traffic light system in the city that collects data through IoT devices. It regulates the traffic flow and reduces congestion on roads with an additive feature of the movement of emergency vehicles such as ambulances or fire trucks being the priority.
The plethora of data collected through the usage of sensors and IoT throughout the city regulates its functioning and should be utilized by the citizens forming a SELF AWARE smart city. A self-aware city is one where people are aware of what is happening around them, what are the environmental issues to be taken care of, and what social issues are supposed to be resolved, and by utilizing all relevant data people can work on the solutions.
Smart cities frequently fail to embrace inclusivity that ultimately increases the issues aimed to get resolved initially. Yves Raibaud- the acclaimed sociologist and urban geographer, in a panel discussion, addressed the issue of male inclusivity, especially western privileged men. It highlights how women, specially-abled, older people, children, minorities, and people with lower income get excluded from the privilege of being a part of the city unconsciously.
The main aim should be to prioritize inclusivity and active planning that concerns people of every community which can be a tedious task in countries like France that do not allow data collection based on race and hence failure of specific initiatives. But the government and other concerned authorities should work and find out about inclusivity issues and take appropriate actions to work towards the better condition of economically, socially, or politically excluded groups.
A fine example of civic participation is the Barcelona Air Quality Datathon organized in 2018, which raised awareness, participation, and innovation amongst people regarding increasing air pollution in the world highly concerning Barcelona. Though it was an event organized by public institutions, the public played an important role. Also, some people are technologically challenged, and a complete technology-driven system should always have strategies that concern these people and work effectively for them. An example is an educational program teaching about digital life addressed by public institutions such as libraries or community centers. The procedure will be efficient when the implication of technologies like Artificial intelligence and the internet of things is done rather than being a mere source of information in official records.
Smart cities are nothing but Smart people; otherwise, there is no scope for a Smart city or a city. Sensors, big data, and the internet of things are all instruments to paint a Smart City and should be maneuvered wisely with the end-users in mind and their needs as the fundamental criteria. The driving force of a Smart City should be its citizens rather than other factors.
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