Smart Cities Should Be Based on Social Considerations

Author: Konstantin Stupak -

A smart city is one where information technology is employed to heighten efficiency and share information with the public, improving people’s quality of life. The smartest city in the world at the moment, per a study by the market researcher Juniper Research, is Singapore. While there is a generally positive attitude towards smart cities, there are also serious concerns about the way developments are currently taking place.

This is mainly due to a general lack of a people-focused strategy – in particular, in relation to social elements, personal morals and emotions. We have been following what is happening on the internet, and we observe, particularly in social media, a data-driven approach led by commercial organisations that is purely profit driven.

Unfortunately, current technologies are not sufficiently advanced for social, moral and other individual personal issues to be included in big data analytics. Equally as important, it isn’t yet possible to provide tools around these values to the individual users, allowing them to sit in the driver’s seat of a smart city.

Although new research software technologies are under development that could be used to address these “soft” issues, they are still in a very early stage of development. (In total, a 5-10-year timeframe is expected.)

So for the time being it looks like we are stuck with the current Google-, Facebook- and Amazon-driven approach. The commercial character of these entities leaves little or no room for personal issues, especially around social behaviour, individual morals and other preferences.

This goes much further than the “permission-based” strategies which still have not been fully implemented within the internet and would at least put the end user in control of their own current data and use of services. The lack of personal control is a serious concern to most internet users, but it seems there is no real push for change. Aside from lots of complaints to regulators and huffing and puffing from politicians, in reality, the system continues strongly along the path of commercial interests. The only leadership to be seen comes from the European Commission.

Developments in smart cities are still moving at a slow pace, and this gives us time to look at how we can create smart cities that are truly driven by the citizens themselves. Of course, we need industry, universities and investors to be involved in these developments, but cities will have to ensure that collaboration takes place from a people perspective, not a commercial one. Business and investment models will have to be developed from a societal perspective and not just a commercial model with some social hand-outs attached.

At least on paper, smart city plans have good elements that are taking societal, environmental and individual issues into account. However, these elements become watered down once the implementation starts, with commercial interest prevailing over societal issues.

Developing people-focused smart cities is not an easy process considering there are no roadmaps on how to get there. It basically requires learning on the job. Providing the city involved has a clear vision of the social component as the core of the smart city, we will be able to move in the right direction.

Global Seven News

Paul Budde

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