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Building SMART cities starts with SMART people, not Technology

“Smart", however, doesn’t mean just installing digital interfaces in traditional infrastructure. Building smart cities, in fact, start with people, not technology. It means using technology and data in a way that it improves the lives of its residents and helps them make better decisions.

What’s a smart city supposed to look like?

Imagine a place where the built environment is able to perceive people’s presence and immediately adapt to their habits, evolving and learning with each interaction.

What is the one big challenge in creating a smart city, especially in the developing world?

The idea for smart cities has traditionally focused on technology as a tool to achieve urban spaces that run like clockwork. We instead need to work towards a future where technology augments the human experience, making cities more liveable and in tune with residents’ desires and needs.

Can intuitive use of data act as an enabler to improve urban mobility and build smarter cities?

Absolutely. Data contains precious information on people’s preferences and behaviour, and analysing it can help us plan urban spaces and infrastructure that respond to–and even anticipate–city dwellers’ needs. An example of this is Light Traffic, a series of intelligent, slot-based intersections that could replace traditional traffic lights thanks to sensors and reduce queues and delays. It has been developed by the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Senseable City Lab, and its idea is based on a scenario where sensor-laden vehicles pass through intersections by communicating and remaining at a safe distance from each other, rather than grinding to a halt at traffic lights.

What will cities of the future look like?

Exactly the same as today’s cities. Smart cities are not an aesthetic. What will change will be the way in which we use the built environment, and this transformation is already happening. For example, occupancy sensors allow us to identify underused space that can be reprogrammed for 24/7 activity. When embedded into the workspace, they could transform a co-working area that provides desk space during the day into an event venue in the evening.

The hope is that technology will fade into the background of the future city, enhancing our interaction with the built environment as an invisible skin layer permeating buildings, roads and other infrastructure. We certainly would not advocate for a future where everything is reduced to a shiny touchscreen.

How do we nurture the human side of cities?

We should strive to design “sensible"–or responsive–cities, where spaces engage in a dynamic interaction with people and contribute to their well-being.


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