Commentary: smart cities need a human face: Page 2 of 2

Wed, 2018-01-31 10:29 -- David Batchelor

In the face of this opposition, smart cities’ technology have struggled to be adopted in socially focused spaces. As a result, they have been largely confined to mostly commercial and community-absent public zones such as shopping streets and motorways to avoid claims of invading and interfering in people’s lives.

It is becoming evident that smart cities are failing to convince communities of their value in social spaces. The efficiencies-based narrative of smart cities does not resonate with communities who value a space’s intimate and intricate social nature rather than time and resource efficiencies. The technology cannot replicate, enlarge or quicken the valued subjective human experiences of these spaces. Spaces such as a well-used neighbourhood park or cafe where relationships and interactions can take place are not improved in the community’s eyes by using less resources or increasing its capacity. If anything, it threatens the space’s quaint charm. As Jane Jacobs states "The remarkable intricacy and liveliness of downtown can never be created by the abstract logic of a few men". Smart cities need to understand that for the technology to be accepted within social spaces, it should not try to quicken, enlarge or replicate social interactions, but instead enrich what is existing.

To solve this, smart cities need a new narrative that is aware of the existing values in these social spaces. This narrative needs to communicate the technology in a manner which utilises the existing community’s valued aspects of their space at the centre of its story. Whether these are privacy, street-specific identities or something else, they need to be the focus so that smart cities can positivity resonate for communities. Also, smart cities should showcase their ability to enable and enhance the existing community which builds on the organic ecosystems that already exists but not try to replace them. By approaching it that way, then communities may not be overwhelmed that their environment will be lost to sensors. This is important so the community can see themselves living within smart cities and not as their opposition.

In short, smart cities need to adopt a human face to be welcomed into social spaces. To achieve the smart cities’ vision of a society enabled by technology, the existing social environment must be used as a blueprint for the technologies’ implementation. In these spaces, smart cities need to stop emphasising change but instead show how they can enhance the existing.