A smart city is a city where improvements in quality of life, city services, sustainability and resilience are accelerated by the widespread and transformative use of data and technology.
The reason I like that definition is because it focuses on the things that are important about cities: that cities need to deliver good quality of life and that they need to deliver high quality services in a sustainable way where there’s resilience against any disaster that might come. And they need to do that in the best way possible.
A smart city understands how data and technology can make that process quicker and more effective. The other key thing is that it is widespread because it’s not just about a city council or city administration being smart, but it’s about how the city administration can facilitate the widespread use of data and technology by everybody in the city.
It is popular at the moment to have rankings that say which city is the smartest and which is second, which is the third, and so on. That is rubbish because every city is good at different things. You might get one city that’s really good at making life convenient and easy for the citizen and another city that’s very good at sustainability, and so on.
What you need to be looking at is not a simple system of ranking, but a way of assessing how the city is doing in a number of different aspects of daily life. In this way, the city can understand where its strengths and weaknesses lie, in order to see where it needs to invest more attention to improve things.
Technology and data have a pervasive role that is constantly changing as new technologies emerge. Data is getting cheaper and easier to accumulate, to deal with, to cleanse and to analyze. Things are happening all the time. It’s not static.
Cities have always tried to use good evidence to make decisions. Nowadays, data is becoming ever easier to gather and is available not only for use by the humans, but can also be fed into electronic systems that can automatically act on the data that’s coming in and make adjustments to ensure that things continually work better and in the most effective way. This is the key to cities becoming smarter. Data and technology are making it easier to manage the city in a better and more responsive way to help things work properly.
While technology and data open up great possibilities, they also open up the potential for great risks and real damage. Increasingly, you are seeing convergence where, by being able to link all the systems from the cities, you can help them all work more synergistically and holistically together.
Unfortunately, they then become much more vulnerable to attack because hackers have more ways to get in and, once they’ve gotten in, they can attack not just one little isolated bit but the whole thing. This is where you need to do a lot of very careful work to make sure that you’re standardizing and not only end to end, but also the whole ecosystem. You have got to think really widely.
To make a smart city work there’s lots of good thinking that needs to happen in terms of new technologies and new ways of using data, but also a lot of critically important work on how to manage data and technology to make sure that life is safe and secure for the people who live in the city.