On November 13th, I attended the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona. This was a great event that was attended by city government, academic and industry leaders from around the world. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that there seemed to be a gap between what is presented and exhibited at Smart City events such as this, and the priorities articulated by city leaders around the world. There at least two perspectives where I see a disconnect:
First, the Smart City construct tends to focus on the areas of transportation, energy and water management, environmental stewardship and emergency/disaster response. However, while these are all are all important issues, so are education, health, safety and security areas not typically included in the Smart City discussion.
The rationale for the exclusion of these areas is understandable as the responsibility often rests with the regional or national government in many parts of the world. Fair enough. But what really matters is how a city’s residents experience the city: If the schools don’t provide quality education, if healthcare is not readily accessible or affordable, or if one doesn’t feel safe in their own neighborhood because of a high crime rate, the city can’t compete to retain or attract highly mobile skilled workers that make up the backbone of a competitive local economy.
The second disconnect is the ‘common’ definition of so-called “Smart Technologies.” For example, often a simple citizen portal or app can make a huge difference in the citizen experience, or giving city workers modern communication and collaboration tools can make them much more productive and effective.
Are these “Smart City” solutions? Maybe. It depends on who you talk to. But most of the Smart Technology conversation is still centered on sensor-based systems, data collection and analytics, machine to machine (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IOT). While these technologies are important, they are a subset of the overall technology landscape that can benefit cities.
I think it’s time city leaders, technology companies and academics expand the conversation to include not just a more holistic definition of what constitutes a Smart City, but a more inclusive definition of the technologies that can help a city reach its goals.
What do you think?
This is the inaugural blog post in a bi-weekly series on how technology is making a real impact for better cities. Visit Microsoft on Government every other Monday for new perspectives on this topic.
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