How’s your aim?

The Smart Cities (Places and Communities) movements present an exciting potential in how data and technology can transform our experience of our cities. But (like this archer) the majority of smart city initiatives aim too low and miss the real opportunities.
[In fact this archer — like too many cities — is posing not aiming!]
It’s time for a new wave of smarter approaches…

Smarter Cities the Book?

When I first encountered the concept of ‘Smart Cities’ I knew, from my work at a leading research agency, the massive potential of applying the latest exciting tools of data and technology to make cities and communities better places to live. But I quickly recognised how ill equipped the average practitioner and stakeholder was to take on the challenge that was outside their training and experience.

A genuine rethink

Secondly I realised there was a massive movement-wide missed opportunity to rethink the goals of our cities and what can be achieved in the light of the new tools of data and technology. Think about it for a moment… you are building a house when an alien comes along and provides you with tools that are totally different to anything you’ve used before… suddenly you are faced with two prospects: firstly, maybe you should build the house in a totally different way; secondly, maybe with the new tools you can build a house that is a totally different shape and size — maybe you should redesign the whole house! New tools demand a revolution and paradigm shift in our thinking. A total redesign of our aspirations. Too often practitioners and smart city enthusiasts see that ‘becoming a smart city’ simply means ‘digital transformation’, i.e. doing things the old way using the new digital tools to add convenience or pizzazz; ‘Business As Usual’ with smart city glitter on top. Done well this is indeed a step forward but a much smaller step than it should be; done poorly this is a blocker to future  progress!

A moral mandate

Thirdly, we have a moral mandate and ethical responsibility to rethink cities in the broader context of sustainability. Managing the excess of carbon we pump into our atmosphere is just part of this challenge. The earth and its environmental resources to provide for life are finite. Similarly it’s capacity to absorb environmental damage is also finite. So becoming sustainable is not an option. If we are wise we will think this through and devise moral and ethical pathways to sustainability. If we are foolish we condemn our children and poorer communities to avoidable suffering.

A complex story to communicate

I’ve wanted to put all this into a book on smart cities that was different to anything out there. But my primary difficulty has been communicating a complexity of the smart city into a ‘story’ that leads the reader through a logical understandable sequence. The second is the real risk that the book will be indigestible to the consumer… a great idea from my perspective but failing to resonate with a readership… a dish that will only be eaten by a few… the wrong mechanism to obtain impact. Also I have some conflicting personal priorities of trying to wrap up some other projects!

So… this website contains some primers to the book. Not the full dish; just the appetisers. They are a challenge to rethink cities, our aspirations and goals for the future and how to use the latest tools most effectively.

If what I write, makes sense, let me know and maybe I’ll develop a better idea of how to construct the ‘smarter, better, future cities and communities’ book… 

Neil

Photo of archer by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels.