Smart Cities: So Much More Than Data

Smart Cities: So Much More Than Data

The urban trend that has swept the globe, Smart Cities was an idea born out of innovation and a fascination with data. Technology integrated into every aspect of human beings lives isn’t a wild stretch of the imagination by any means, we just have to look at the ability to connect to the internet in the most remote corners of the earth to know that. The Smart Cities narrative continues to grow and expand into visions of utopian living but we want to ask, how exactly can we evaluate the success of a Smart City program?

Talk Before Technology

Smart Cities have dedicated large rounds of funding and resources into urban dwellings in the shape of engineering companies and consultancy firms but this doesn't necessarily mean success. Smart cities are really about collecting data and using this data to make cities more efficient and better places to live in. However, monitoring citizens can be a controversial process as there is a fine line between collecting data and invading privacy.

Minimizing the role of the average citizen to nothing more than a pixel is where Smart City incentives are beginning to go wrong. Each city is planned down to the last traffic light but the convenience of using the one size fits all template doesn't work everywhere. Thus, a tailored approach is always encouraged even though it may take time.

Oversights in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro is one such city that failed to capitalize on the Smart City initiative. Awarded the World Smart City Award in 2013, it became apparent a couple of years later that the city had some major flaws which worked to increase socioeconomic divides in the area. One improvement made by Rio’s Operations Center was increasing the number of traffic cameras in operation across the city. After closer examination, it was noted that the cameras were heavily placed in the wealthier parts of town and thus, leaving the less well off areas cameraless.

The Integrated Center of Command and Control which was one of the main implementers of the Smart Cities projects was also found to not have a website. This meant that the public had no way of accessing relevant information of what was happening and this lack of transparency only alienated people further. Thinking they were merely serving as data centers for the project heads, the people grew disillusioned. Another flaw with the rapid introduction of the SC's operation in Rio was the lack of long-term vision. With long-term improvement being the main aim of many SC’s, Rio's seemed to work to more short term goals, with the ICCC erasing data every 90 days. This meant that city officials had know way of knowing what information was collected 4 months ago or a year previous. Again this did little to bolster the citizen's fate in such a project.

So What Can We Learn From Brazil's Smart City Struggles?

Greater transparency is essential! Staying engaged with the citizens is the only way to build better, smarter cities, without this, it can be very easy to veer into Big Brother territory and potentially derail the credibility of the project. Actively seeking out their input is better than any data that cameras can pick up. Localized surveys and ongoing research is needed to ensure that all SC projects are inclusive and not exclusive. The addition of sensors and internet access won’t solve the problems that many urban areas face. All these projects need to be rooted in public participation in an effort to grow into something more than a machine city enclosed by massive skyscrapers and futuristic railway lines.

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