Smart cities don't just happen

by Johanna Pitman on the 7th of April 2017

From their primary purpose as centralised trading areas, to their layout and design, their growth, governance and society, the modern cities of today have their roots in the ancient civilisations of thousands of years ago. Our current notion of ‘city’ would be just as recognisable in the metropolis of Alexandria in the 4th century BC, as it is today.  

But what of the future? As cities become more attractive places to live and work, how do we prepare to meet the huge increase in demand for services and amenities, while securing the cohesiveness of urban communities?  

It takes many people to visualise what a city should be, not just governments. A city needs to be as diverse as the population who live in it. The role of government is to make sure we have sewers before disease and investment before gridlock. If our cities are going to have form as well as function, we have to consider citizen culture and civic pride and invest in collaboration as well as infrastructure.

‘Smart cities’ takes collaboration and the tech super boosts it. Edward Glaeser said in his seminal book Triumph of the City, ‘all successful cities do have something in common. To thrive, cities must attract smart people and enable them to work collaboratively.’

The urbanist and internationally-recognised expert on future cities, Anthony Townsend, in Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia (2013), defines smart cities as ‘where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects and even our bodies to address social, economic and environmental problems.’ Yes, we’ll have one of those please.

There are plenty of cities that are doing ‘smart’ already. London, Barcelona, Seoul and Singapore are rated some of the smartest, with many others snapping at their heels. Being a smart city, or an intelligent community, is not just measured by the deployment of cutting edge technology – outcomes need to be measured in terms of liveability, community cohesion and prosperity. The use of dynamic data provides certainty instead of speculation of our needs to best understand the people, communities, economic, environmental and societal drivers of our future cities.

Many Australian cities and towns strive to offer the magic formula of digital and physical connectivity, advanced technology, an openness to global markets, high levels of sustainability, attractive natural environment, a liveable climate and an interesting city. But while our current report card isn’t bad, we could do so much more.

The smart city promise is there but advances in technology are still largely untapped. And smart cities don’t just happen by happy accident, there needs to be an intent and a strategy.

The promise of the future is within our grasp, we need to want to reach out and grab it.

Woman looking over market, with high rise buildings in the background

CityConnect is an open innovation program that offers a unique opportunity to engage citizens and entrepreneurs to find solutions which make cities better places to live, work, play, trade and move. In crowdsourcing hundreds of ideas from thousands of entrepreneurs we’ll co-create solutions that address the urban challenges as well as engage citizens in solving them.

What we want are solutions that will make our cities more resilient, efficient, liveable, inclusive and prosperous. These need to be technology-enabled solutions and may be based on web/mobile technology, IoT, big data and AI, augmented and virtual reality, and automation, with the necessary security and trust requirements in place. What we don’t want is another app telling us where to get a craft beer or attend a yoga class.

Before the official entries close, we invite you to participate in our hackathons in Australia and around the world through the AngelHack Global Series to explore your ideas to improve our cities. We’ll be looking at the challenges we face both now and in the future and how CityConnect, in bringing together government and corporate partners with entrepreneurs in both Australia and globally, can solve real problems.

It’s time to think about what we want our smart cities of the future to achieve and to look like.

In not embracing the compelling opportunities we have to shape our future, by default we are accepting the alternative; a dystopian vision of worsening traffic, increasing pollution, expensive housing, inept infrastructure and ineffectual services. The lack of a decent place to get a craft beer will be the least of our problems.   

To learn more about the CityConnect program and to get involved, please visit the website cityconnect.co or follow @CityConnectBC on Twitter.