The posts are based on the proposition that in the end, if the smart city idea is to be both interesting and genuinely transformative in a deep and sustained way, it should be about much more. And, at its heart, it should be about the relationship between people and the places in which they live and work.
As others have argued, smart cities should be “smart” because of the way they engage people and their relationships with the urban spaces they live in. They are not smart because of the technology, although the technology, especially the next wave of “internet of things”, artificial intelligence and machine learning, will be a foundation of what makes them smart.
They will be smart because they engage a set of bigger political, social, ethical and environmental opportunities and risks which fundamentally impact the way people experience cities for work, play, learning and politics
Smart cities: what does “next” look like?
The recent policy and investment announcements across the political spectrum in Australia, coupled with evidence from cities around the world, indicate the “lines of inquiry” which will determine how cities realise the promise of new capabilities for growth, fairness and sustainability.
In that sense, the “next” for smart cities is already here.
New infrastructure funding
New ways of mobilising private sector investment, including variations on value capture, together with strategic public sector investment and variations on user-pays strategies are emerging as cities, together with government at state and national levels, put new funding packages together.
The “city deals” initiatives recently announced in Australia and already a feature of smart city policy and funding in the UK for example, are creating new forms of policy, investment and implementation collaboration. They tend to focus on putting individual projects and initiatives into a larger strategic frame that toughens up the link between vision and aspiration, new investment in capabilities and services and measuring the impact in terms of noticeable shifts in jobs, investment and improved citizen and business experience.
In Australia, the City Deals projects will link federal funding to reforms to accountability for local government and State Governments. The Deals may cover whole cities and be structured around specific infrastructure objectives, such as housing creation, housing affordability and environmental outcomes.
Examples of a City Deal may include changing planning regulations to encourage higher density housing, or integrating environmental criteria into already established decision making architecture to streamline approvals and reduce waste.
While each City Deal will be individually framed, they will take into account factors such as defined geographic area, clear outcomes and actions, specific capital investments connected to reform, clear governance arrangements, delivery timeframes and accountabilities and performance measurements, including the indicators and methodology to be used. (Adapted from City Deals briefing note from Barton Deakin)
Jobs, housing and mobility
New insights into the misalignment of past investments in new transport infrastructure, land and housing policy and investment in job growth and new job opportunities is forcing a much more pragmatic and hard-nosed integration across these policy and investment domains.
Where jobs are or might grow, how people move around the city, especially between home and work, and where they can afford to live are all tightly integrated dimensions of the same central obsession with liveability and resilience. That, in turn, will drive more collaborative and better integrated policy thinking, planning, investment, execution and impact measurement.
Cities as services and experience
The smart city movement is gradually shifting its focus on cities as collections of assets, infrastructures and systems to cities as a collection of services and experiences.
As the options for providing many of the enabling platforms for city living – mobility, energy, communication, work, learning and skills for example – are becoming more susceptible to sharing or collaborative solutions, the real focus is on how these increasingly common and shared platforms shift the way the city is experienced by people and businesses and communities. (Based on exchange with Dan Hill from Arup/City of Sound)
The 30-minute city
The Government and Opposition have both embraced the notion of the “30-minute city”. Its implications for “density done well”, lower car dependency and the importance of open and public space will presumably start to influence more overtly the way policy, investment and collaboration between government, communities and the business community happen.
Seriously digital, completely connected
The smart city movement will increasingly pick up on the promise of a constellation of connected, digital platforms and tools that will accelerate the building of large-scale shared platforms of information, knowledge, transaction and experience from which more efficient and responsive services will feed.
These technologies including the next evolution of social media and collaborative platforms, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning, the spreading power of the Internet of Everything in which everything and everybody becomes a node in the network, cloud computing, data and analytics.
Separately and together, these technologies are becoming cheaper, more pervasive and more powerful. Part of their appeal, and impact, is a function of their ability to wrap themselves much more effectively around the rhythms and contours of people’s lives and aspirations.
They will increasingly influence and shape the human aspirations for good living in a smart city which they will be central to delivering. The strategic significance of the underlying network infrastructure and assets on which these new platforms and tools rely, which will become increasingly “smart” in their own right, becomes inescapable.
The social life of cities
As impact and experience becomes a legitimate measure of the success of smart city strategies, they will become more engaged with the social life of cities. Policy, investment, learning and collaboration will increasingly focus on the quality of social networks and relationships and the patterns of interaction from which people fashion their experience of their city. That includes how they engage and influence the way in which big questions around equality, access, opportunity to accountability are dealt with.
City conversations, problem solving and governance
“Smart cities need smart governance” (Tim Williams, Committee for Sydney) is a mantra whose implications are becoming more influential in the focus on better ways to make knowledge available and to give citizens the tools and authority to become problem solvers. “A good urban technology stack should include tools for ordinary citizens to self-organise their efforts for change-making, in their own neighbourhoods, and also participate better in city-level decision making processes.” (Ash Mahesh)
How cities talk and exchange ideas about what they want, who they are and what they could become will become critical to resilience, trust and legitimacy. And that, in turn, plays directly into the larger systems and habits of governance, as cities work out better ways to talk, share, argue and decide.
Making cities legible
A feature of “next” for smart cities is the imperative to make them more legible. That means more than making them transparent and open, although both of those instincts are important and are freighted with big policy and practice implications in their own right.
It means, literally, helping people to be able to “read” what is happening in the city – who is doing what and why, where decisions are being made and on what basis, how investments and decisions are made and then held accountable and, ultimately, in the service of whose vision and framing of the city’s future?
Cities need platforms, common and shared assets that can provision some of the basic functions of the city – gathering and making accessible performance data and knowledge (as is dashboards and the like), making basic and common transactions easy, cheap and efficient, servicing the big systems of energy, transport and security.
How those platforms get built, used and shared will become a big part of the smart city debate, including the possibility of using platforms whose access and reach might connect across otherwise competing cities in the same country or even across national boundaries.
Another growing element of the next phase of smart cities in the way in which smart city strategies and investments translate into the resilience of cities. Many cities are beginning to focus on resilience, initially as a concern with predicting, preparing for and recovering from major external shocks (economic, natural disasters, terrorism and community safety).
But more recently the discussion has become more nuanced and ambitious, recognising the need to build resilience not only in the face of sharp, unexpected but essentially one-off external shocks, but also in response to the face of “slower” and more insidious risks including inequality, poverty and big cultural shifts reflected in alienation and eroding trust in public governance.
How do we look: impact and performance
A final piece of “next” for smart cities is the evolution of an obsession with impact and performance. That may be through better and more nuanced dashboard tools, some of which will be vital to city legibility. But it may be through other formats and platforms that find more and better ways to give people a sense of how a city is tracking across many of the dimensions that matter, from the quotidian and transactional to the more ethereal (empathy and relationships, for example).