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The Smart City, Simpler Than It Seems

The Smart City, Simpler Than It Seems



Over the last decade ‘Smart City’ has become a topic of increasing popularity and interest, entering our shared vocabulary at a rapid pace. Correspondingly, ‘Smart City’ has also become a notoriously ill-defined term, with a myriad of articles, blogs, opinion pieces, and news reports jumping on the band-wagon and feeding the hype. Which, in-of-itself is perfectly understandable, given that the term is relatively new and seems to have exciting implications for the world we live in. However, sometimes all the excitement can leave some feeling a bit bewildered, wondering what exactly is a smart city and why is it important?

Search interest for the term 'Smart City' over the last decade. (Google Trends)

What is a Smart City

Often smart city definitions whirl and twirl around the idea of municipalities using a variety of modern and exciting technology. Efficiency and data flow are at the core of these definitions. Common themes center around using ICT systems to make government more efficient, working environments more competitive, and communities more residentially functional. These definitions are definitely on the right track. However, they are focused almost exclusively on the various of technology, which in many ways is putting the cart before the horse.

It is helpful to think of smart cities as the next step in the natural development of a city. Throughout the course of history, cities have developed; applying technology to improve the condition of the city. Aqueducts in ancient Rome brought water, the New York Subway in 1904 moved people more efficiently, fiber-optic cables under the sidewalks bring better internet connections, and IoT sensors applied to trashcans of Amsterdam make rubbish removal cheaper and faster. This highlights the underlying principle of what the smart concept is all about, cities evolve by using new technologies in order to solve problems. The focus here being on ‘solving problems’ and technology as a means to that end.

With that in mind, a smart city is smart when it solves problems in innovative ways often leveraging modern technology to do so.  

Why are Smart Cities Important?

Given that cities develop over the course of time, they continually face new problems. This applies to large cities and small towns alike. How to provide accessible services for changing demographics, reduce pollution, fix congestion, develop dynamic education systems, etc. The problems don’t go away, they take on new forms. The truly important thing about smart cities is that they create systems for the community to evolve according to its own needs and situations. To dictate for themselves what the problems that need solving are. Smart cities empower the residents to give feedback, create solutions and define what sustainable community growth means. Thus, technology is not an end unto itself. Technology is a means to this end, an enabler of better community.

Smart Cities, Large and Small

Given this perspective the title of Smart City does not just apply to the large metropolises of the world, but also for the numerous small and medium sized towns the world over. Any community has the potential to be a smart city. Reaching and listening to residents doesn’t have to be rocket science. Creating systems for open dialog and meaningful participation are things that every municipality can do, regardless of size.  

Becoming a smart city is accessible to all. It is a bottom up approach, which allows communities to participate in solution building and liveability development. It is creating a more sustainable and involved methods of local democracy.  


If you would like to involve your community to create more dynamic ways of living together, Future Dialog can help you along on your journey. Contact us here!


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