Smart cities should be based on social considerations

While there is a general positive vibe regarding smart cities ther are also serious concerns about the way developments are currently taking place.

This has mainly to do with a general lack of a people-focussed strategy – in particular in relation to social elements and personal morals, beliefs and emotions. We have been following what is happening on the internet and we observe, particularly in social media, a data-driven approach led by commercial organisations that is purely profit-driven.

Unfortunately current technologies are not sufficiently advanced that social, moral and other individual personal issues can be included in big data analytics.  Equally importantly, we can’t yet provide tools around these values to the individual users, allowing them to sit in the driver’s seat of a smart city.

Although new research software technologies are under development that could be used to address these ‘soft’ issues they are still in a very early stage of development (5-10-year timeframe).

So for the time being it looks like we are stuck with the current Google-, Facebook-, Amazon-driven approach. The commercial character of these entities leaves little or no room for personal issues, especially around social behaviour, personal morals and other personal preferences.

This goes much further than the ‘permission-based’ strategies that I have been advocating for the last few decades, which still have not been fully implemented within the internet and which would at least put the end-user in control of their own current data and their use of services. The lack of personal control is a serious concern to most internet users but it looks like there is no real push for change – lots of complaints to regulators and huffing and puffing from politicians, but in reality the system continues very much along the path of the commercial interests. The only leadership we see comes from the European Commission.

Developments in smart cities are still moving at a slow pace and this gives us time to look at how we can create smart cities that are truly driven by the citizens themselves. Of course we need the industry, universities and investors to be involved in these developments, but cities will have to ensure that collaboration takes place from a people perspective, not a commercial one.  Business and investment models will have to be developed from a society perspective – it should not just be a commercial model with some social hand-outs attached to it.

What we also see is that smart city plans have at least on paper often good elements in it that are taking societal, environmental and people issues into account, but these elements then get watered down once the implementation starts, with commercial interest prevailing over societal issues.

Developing people focussed smart cities is not an easy process, as there are no roadmaps on how to get there. It is basically learning on the job. As long as the city involved has a clear vision of the social component as the core of their smart city we will be able to move in the right direction.


Paul Budde



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