What is a Smart City?

02 Dec 2017

Smart cities are a leading manifestation of the internet of things (IoT): they involve the use of sensors – either standalone or added to physical devices – to generate data that can be communicated, integrated and analyzed to enable some aspect of city life to function better in some way. Data flows may be used singly or in combination with other flows, or in combination with historical (i.e.- accumulated) data from the past.

But even if there was a consistent definition of a city, why would the applicability of the IoT be linked to cities alone? If habitation ranges along a continuum from “city” to something like “village” or “hamlet”, there is plenty of work to show how the IoT can bring benefit to the latter; and that these benefits are often from the same systems, such as water, energy, crime and so on, that are contained within most definitions of smarter cities. In addition, at a time when urbanization is increasing dramatically, there are states now, that are explicitly attempting to use IoT technologies to improve economic and living conditions in villages such that people stay there, rather than move to cities. In other words, the issue is not city or village, but the overall settlement pattern, and that is what may need to be managed, in a “smart” way using the IoT.

Smart cities have variously been linked with efficiency; sustainability (similar, but not identical to efficiency); responsiveness; livability; urban planning or technology showcases; participation; resilience; and other qualities. In other words, there are choices to be made about the applications to which the IoT is put, and about the dimensions of smart which the community pursues.

I will therefore assert that the definition of smart cities absolutely needs to include the participatory element. How that is achieved will vary according to cultural aspects and customs of each country – but participation does need to be present.

“A smart community would therefore be one of any size or significance, geographically separate or part of some larger urban unit, that employs the IoT to:

  • improve aspects of its operations or other factors within or outside its boundaries that are important to its economic vitality, safety, environmental footprint, quality of life or other factors deemed significant;
  • respond to the community’s changing needs rapidly and efficiently;
  • engage the community and enable informed understanding of, and where applicable consent to, what it is doing;
  • collaborate with other communities as needed or desired.”