Topic Summary: Smart cities

This week’s post on the Digital society was on the topic of Smart cities. As defined by Computerworld “A smart city when it is at its most basic level is developed when “smart” technologies are deployed to change the nature and economics of the surrounding architecture”. Smart technologies transform how we currently live in their attempt to optimise our overall quality of life. A good smart city is one that successfully connects technology to people significantly improving the day-to-day.

Smart cities in practice have been criticised. The provided example of Songdo, a smart city developed in Korea, is considered to be a failure. It failed because the project neglected the social impact of a smart city environment on its citizens. Those who lived there felt lonely and disconnected from the community. Songdo appears to be an unfriendly city that is dominated by technology. The citizens interact with the smart technologies more than they do with their fellow neighbours. This makes for a isolated place.

If i’ve learnt anything from the two lockdowns we have experienced under the 2020 pandemic, it’s that people crave human interactions. The mental wellbeing of citizens is a priority and with limited regular human interactions , society’s mental wellbeing has been significantly challenged. Over 69% of UK adults said they were very or somewhat worried about the effect Covid-19 is having on their life now. We naturally seek experiences with people whilst being surrounded by people. Smart cities like Songo are undesirable to humans as the emphasis is on interactions with technology over people.

However, the development of Smart cities 3.0, which aim to empower people and improve wellbeing, is far more promising. Government’s aiming to connect with people and focus on their wellbeing will adapt the use of smart technologies accordingly to meet citizen’s needs. In a smart city, people want to feel a sense of community introducing technology that facilitates this is the way forward.

The sharing economy is a rewardable concept. Covid-19 has increased trends in sustainability as the ban of all-but-essential travel has opened our eyes to a new cleaner and greener world. The image of the clear Venice canals was enough to drive incentives to remain sustainable for the near future. Introducing business models that share existing resources will further compliment the pathway to Smart cities 3.0.

To battle between human interaction vs technological interactions can be addressed by introducing technology that facilitates greater collaboration between citizens. Examples of this would be developing apps where citizens can engage to report issues more easily, or network through platforms that allow neighbours to connect and share out their resources.

More technological interactions means more accessible data, which enables companies to more easily monitor the actions of our citizens. Although access to data is arguably harmful to the privacy of the individual, gathering quantitive data could be revelatory to a government seeking to improve society. For example, collecting data that measures what resources we use too much of can lead governments to introduce new objectives to counter the negative impacts of overusing certain resources.

As technology accelerates we as a society must advance in using these technologies to their best potential. Smart cities can optimise our technology usage whilst also improving our quality of life. The only consideration that must be made is how we can integrate these technologies to satisfy and sustain citizens mental wellbeing.

Undergraduate student at Uni of Manchester, currently writing for the digital society page on how organisations have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.