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Smart cities
Smart cities

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1 What is the role of citizens in smart cities?

A photograph of someone holding up a smartphone, taking a picture of traffic.
Figure 1 People-centred smart cities

Technology has already transformed our lives. Enhanced connectivity, inexpensive mobile phones and the use of social media have radically altered people’s behaviour. But how will smart technologies transform our responses to city challenges and improve our quality of life?

A utopian vision of smart cities that has been largely driven by technologists and engineers sees cities in which our lives are automated in an environment that is highly efficient.

But this is not the type of future city many people would like to live in. Forward-thinking cities and businesses recognise the need to review their approach to smart city design and planning, to move away from a technology-led approach and towards a design approach that is people-centred. In this vision, the city will reflect the needs of citizens and the challenges they face. Technology will play an enabling role and smart city plans will be bespoke to the needs of individual cities.

Nesta, an innovation charity, has published a report called Rethinking Smart Cities from the Ground Up [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Nesta et al., 2015). The report recognises that successful smart cities are making the most of the technologies that enable greater collaboration between urban communities, and between citizens and city governments.

Smart city literature employs a variety of generic terms for people, such as ‘consumers’, ‘users’, ‘citizens’ and ‘stakeholders’. In this course the term ‘citizens’ is used for the people who live, work and play in cities.

If you want to design engaging and effective smart cities you’ll need to consider who your citizens are and how you can work with them. People’s differences are likely to shape their views on smart cities. As a designer of a smart city, your engagement and design approach will be influenced by certain standard factors, including age, gender, whether or not you have a disability, whether or not you have children, ownership of a computer, earnings and where you live.

The success of smart cities relies on citizens engaging with technology solutions, but citizens must also take a leading role in their design, creation and maintenance. Professional disciplines will be required to work together with citizens to co-create solutions; designers, engineers, social scientists, technologists, psychologists, planners, artists and many more must collaborate to make our cities better places in which to live, work and play.

Further reading

The Guardian article, Too-smart cities? Why these visions of Utopia need an urgent reality check (Graham, 2014), explores why it’s important to engage citizens in smart city planning and decision making.