What’s Smart about Smart Cities?

smart-cities-1The internet and the concept of a smart city have a lot in common. Their timelines are pretty similar: not in a chronological sense, but considering different phases of development and the similarity in characteristics that these phases have.

Much like the smart city the internet was, after it gone public in the nineties, a new channel for companies to present themselves. After that read-only phase, the internet became a platform for reading and writing; not only for companies, but also for individuals with blogs and personal websites altering the way we share and interact online. A more social platform we eventually dubbed Web 2.0. A few years back it went truly mobile trough smartphones and the likes. Today, the convergence of Social networks, Mobile platforms and apps, Advanced analytics and big data, Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, sensors and other connected Things (SMACT) is enabling a internet that is everywhere.

The smart city has walked trough similar phases. The early smart city was like a shopping window for big IT-vendors to show off their plans for IT-infrastructures and analytics systems. Trough social participation platforms for citizens to share ideas on the city’s improvement and open data sets it evolved into a more social place for reading and writing, not only top-down, but also bottom-up. And now with a smartphone in almost every citizen’s pocket the city has a mobile interface as well. Furthermore, miniaturization, cheap sensors, smartphones in people’s pockets, autonomous systems, better batteries and smart software in the cloud are blending the digital into the physical subscribing to the idea of a internet that is everywhere.

This also enables new ways of market delivery in urban environments, the unbundling of services and an increased agency for citizens. All largely driven by the ubitiqious connectivity that comes from the internet (of things). In modern societies we are all part of the network, this can have a huge impact on economical choices: both bottom-up and top-down. Smart in this case does not have to refer to increased efficacy in infrastructure, but to smart new business models and economics.

This is the topic of our forth report on Things, due in september. Do we still believe in smart cities? What does smart actually means in this context? How to balance safety and privacy? These are some of the questions we are trying to answer. Feel free to share your questions in the comments.

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